Back in the early 1970s when I began my career, I never would have dreamed of — nor you, most likely — a life in retirement.
The opportunity to be at some ease and have the chance to give back, or reflect and enjoy the world — we did not have the time to appreciate any of this while running after success or as we raised toddlers or earned a degree.
I was reminded of that as I gazed one evening recently at the night sky, seeing the Big Dipper in full view and the Milky Way and Venus in all their glory.
Clearly we were not in Pinehurst; the ambient light would not allow such sightings. No, we were 14 miles off the coast of Rhode Island on our annual sojourn. This was the time to relish a beach that is not crowded at a time when only the lucky few can be away from school and work. And this was the place that offered quiet, yet full of friendly people and a library to meet every need.
But it is the night sky that brings me particular delight. For some unknown reason, I am emotionally attached to the Big Dipper. Perhaps it’s because the first time I was on this enchanted island, I saw the Dipper in its full glory.
There is something so peaceful in the night sky. Maybe it is because it does not care one whit about our problems or what party we belong to or what we think. The galaxy goes on with us or, sadly, without us, which seems to be an ever increasing option as we on Earth ignore climate change and the end of our lives as we know them.
The Dipper is always there when we come out. It is the first thing I look for as our first evening fades. My buddy the Dipper moves ever so slowly over the course of the five weeks we are here, each move signaling autumn and our return to the South.
I don’t love the Dipper more than I do home. I love it for its signaling of fall and signaling a change. I love it because here I can see it. It takes me back to black and white composition books — remember writing on paper for school? Remember cursive? Remember the smell of library paste? Ink and mimeograph? For me, the Dipper is all those things and more.
Now it is also a time of both escape and returning. It signals our arrival and departure as it stretches across the night sky. I know where it should be as I come to the island and where it will be the night before we leave.
I ask nothing of it and it promises me nothing, and yet it gives and gives. It places me in the universe, it reminds me just how small I am in the great scheme of things, and also that I owe it a debt to continue.
Whatever I do here on Earth, whatever safeguards I live by that will keep the Dipper safe, so too will I be safe. Likewise, whatever chances I take, so do I take them for the Dipper and the Milky Way.
In this time of COVID, it is well to remember that, whatever I do for me, I also do for you. Whatever risks I take, I also drag you along, whether you wish to go or not. So as I gazed at the mighty Dipper and magnificent Milky Way, I offered a plea to help us remember that we are in partnership with my neighbor, with my county, my country, the world and the universe.
As I gazed out at the magnificent night sky, that which I can only partially comprehend, I prayed to the God I love, that all of us — all of us — will remember that we are joined by a slender thread of love and that we need to cleave to that instead of anger or hatred — the new coin of the realm — to ensure that we survive these days and that our children and grandchildren live to see the Dipper and Milky Way for themselves. Kindness and respect are the way forward, even for the night sky.
Tonight, go out and see if you can spy the Dipper or the Milky Way. Even if you can’t, remember that they are there, depending on you. We are all connected and owe one another support and honesty in our actions.
Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.