Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Meteor Watching: What's Really Going On Here?

Yesterday, in the interminable hours of the late afternoon, my sister IMed me to announce she'd heard about the meteor shower taking place at night. She intended on getting something to drink, staying up late, and watching it.

Simultaneously, it seemed, Facebook erupted with status updates relating to the heavens. "Hey everyone, the perseid meteor shower takes place tonight. Prime viewing hours are 12am-5am." "Hitting the gym and then watching the meteor shower with my girlies!"

The news wasn't John-Hughes-Is-Dead huge, but it was pretty major.

Even my old pal Google was getting in on the action.

I know space is fascinating and mysterious. But I wondered...what's with all the commotion? Are we really this starved for free entertainment and a reason to be outdoors?

We are, aren't we? This is terrible!

In fact, staring up at the stars is the only time we allow ourselves to ponder the enormity of the universe, our own tiny part in it, and ask the inevitable and unavoidable question: Is this it?

I'm not getting any younger, and I've yet to accomplish anything, or even choose a career path. I've been broke all my life with no sign of fortune in my future. Or maybe, like most people, I'm placing too much value on my job and money. And if that's the case, then I should probably do more to help mankind or animalkind or plantkind. Maybe I should quit my job to rescue polar bears or march on Washington for world peace. But if I did that, I wouldn't be able to pay my bills and here we are back at the money issue. Perhaps, then, the answer is to just focus on the people in my life. To work on my relationship and the marriage I'm going to be one-half of in about 50 days. But does that mean I've closed myself off to the outside world?

It's enough to give me a headache. But if I don't take the time to stargaze and have a good think about it, these existential queries just poke their way into my thoughts at inconvenient moments. While I'm typing an email to a client I suddenly stop, and find myself confronted with the questions, "What is the point of this? Really? In the grand scheme of things?" But there's no time to stop and sort it all out. I have to send this email because I just do.

If I pursue the real answers I'll certainly wind up homeless, wandering the streets, mumbling to well-dressed people or carrying a cardboard sign warning them about End Times.

So best to save up the crazy, look up at the sky and wait for the meteors I was promised. And that's exactly what I did last night, after inviting myself onto my neighbor's roof deck. I sat there with him, my sister and her roommate, sipping sake and eating tater tots. Early on, we saw a huge meteor. It shot across the sky with a white tail. We all shrieked and applauded. It's really happening!

But then two more hours passed, and there were no similar sightings. Our spirits faded. My sister was certain if we were further out from the city we'd see more. But how could we get that far away on a weekday. Where would we go?

In the end, we each saw 2 or 3 smaller little streaks in the sky. Each one was an individual sighting, its appearance too fleeting to get the attention of anyone else. "Oh! There's one! Did you see it?" And then a collective "no." Maybe it didn't really happen. Maybe it was just the eyes playing tricks. Or maybe it was meant just for me.

This morning, as I stood in the office kitchen pouring a glass of orange juice, the office coordinator spoke to me from across the room. "There's a metor shower tonight! I think I'm gonna check it out."
"I thought that already happened."
"They say it's happening again tonight."
"Oh. I watched it last night. I barely saw anything. It wasn't that great." Maybe it was because I hadn't had my coffee and I was tired from staying up late. I certainly seemed hellbent on being the downer.

But as I saw her sitting there, positive and perky, at the very desk where I used to sit, I felt like maybe this wasn't the right answer. And so I added, "I did see one or two though. They were pretty. I'm sure you'll see more. I probably just needed to give it more time."

1 comment:

Beaker Sneaker said...

Imagine if you had missed that first crazy purple fireball that caused us all to scream and clap, and then someone told you about it. Then you would have said, "Why the heck didn't I watch that?"

You also would have missed the howling lizards!