When the lights went out during a nighttime performance at the school a few weeks ago, we decided to clear the building and get folks home. Fifteen minutes later, only six neighborhood kids, all in the fourth grade, remained. I told them to gather in the hall under a single emergency light so that we could walk together to their apartment units across the street. Anika, however, had her own idea. She looked up, huge-eyed, to ask me – can we look for some shooting stars first?

Lights-out darkness inside the building met its match when we stepped outside. No city lights as far as we could see. Not even across the bay. Wind must have taken down some major lines. We could see a few red lights on boats in the bay, and car tail lights trailing down streets below. But mostly, it was me, a ring of kids – seven little angels on an impromptu field trip.

We crossed the street to the Open Space and crunched through dry grass toward the middle of the clearing. Wind screamed through the high branches above us. One child stepped on something that snapped and a second child whispered ee-uu-wwah! you just popped a bug brain. That image brought our whole group to a standstill. Wind also stopped and there we stood, in sudden quiet. One by one, taking Anika’s advice, we looked up to see stars, blinking, plentiful, everywhere. No one said a word. I looked around me to see open faces, blue-lit by what little light came from above. These were the faces of ‘wow’.

I knew these kids. Their moms would not have allowed them outside at night. Not in this city. Not any more. So, standing under stars as we were was not a common event. Not even for me. More often I look at the ground when I walk at night – and not at the jeweled sky above. Such is my preoccupied habit. And now, here all of us stood, in darkness, witnessing the blessing of this night sky – together.

How do we get as lost as we do? What keeps us looking at the ground, hiding inside, failing to look up even once in a while? Scrapes or scars from old experiences, all of the marks that each encounter leaves behind – and the inclination to sniff sweet smells, soak in deep bands of red that arise at dusk –  even stepping out on a night like this one – all of these things get sucked into blackness as though they never existed.

These kinds of shadows can follow us home and wait for us in the morning. They are not the real thing, however. The kids remind me that to see the real thing, I need to look up. Do I take different way home, set aside a few moments for myself, cherish a kindred spirit who remembers how to wonder? What else? That night in the Open Space, Anika  tugged on my sleeve and whispered to me: “When I close my eyes I can still see the stars.”

Oh my, yes!

I’ve thought about her words since that night. Was she onto something bigger – a different way to see beyond just looking? Maybe this: that the best star gazing comes when you reach for them from the inside out. That might be the secret she couldn’t quite explain.


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10 Responses to Stars

  1. Christopher Caldara June 30, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Anika is an angel who was feeling a little homesick. You let her find her home and she showed you how always to find the way there.

  2. Bob June 30, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    Another good one….. keep them coming.

  3. Terry June 30, 2013 at 11:02 pm #


  4. Chuch June 30, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    Anika may have a future as a poet. None of us takes time to just stop. We may look up or down, but I agree it’s what’s inside that matters, and anyone can spend a lifetime examining what lies within us.

  5. Greg June 30, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Even a couple of minutes to stop and notice- if enacted on a global scale – would be a chance powerful enough to end war. Just a thought.

  6. Em June 30, 2013 at 11:07 pm #


  7. Laura July 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    As always I really enjoy reading your wonderful reflections of the beauty children so readily share for those that take the time to listen and love.

  8. Margaret July 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    This is a fan letter, the first I’ve ever written. From Washington DC, life with kids and schools seem so far away and I miss those special anchors to the planet very much. So when the next installment arrives from From the Playground it is such a treat. You must get pleas all the time to collect these glimpses of the real lessons schools offer into a book and I’m here to join the chorus. Do you know First You Have To Row A Little Boat: Reflections on Life and Living by Richard Rode? A friend gave it to me many years ago (in hardback, than heaven) and it is still on the top of my Favorites List. Your work and Rode’s are such good company. Thank you so much for including me when you send out these wonderful essays.

  9. Suki July 3, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    Indeed, how do we get as lost as we do. And that our migratory paths are the guided by the starlight we carry within us.

  10. Steve July 15, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    I remember the Christmas, when I was about 12,when I received a reflector telescope. I was really into science and the solar system was one of my top five interests (the other four were fishing, music, sports, and girls).

    I even thought I might be an astronaut. However, having reached a height of 6′ and 185 pounds by the time I was 14 I realized that my space career would be forever grounded — NASA doesn’t send big people into space. So I settled for my telescope and used it frequently to find the planets and specific stars.

    One experience was similar to what you described. I was in the desert with my oldest brother and his wife. It was a crystal clear night. With no light pollution I could clearly see the milky way, and, unlike my brothers who more focused on hunting jack rabbits, I experienced something that had heretofore been an abstract idea of how vast the universe is and how infinitesimally small our planet is given that level of scale. I had read that many of what we called stars were actually galaxies and nebulae. But standing in the desert with only a half moon’s worth of light, I actually experienced this vastness in my gut. It demonstrates the greatest limitations of schools — most of what happens there is contrived and experiences confined to the four walls of a classroom.

    The stars as a real phenomenon were so much more powerful standing in that vacant lot during a blackout, than standing in the middle of a playground at night where starlight and darkness are shrouded in a haze of light pollution.

    I think you captured Anika’s sense of wonder and mine as well. In this way, Anika and I and your are connected through a common experience even though we may never meet.

    I give you permission to do with this reflection what you will. Maybe you could read to Anika or even your class, so they know there are people reading your blogs and making connections to our shared experiences.

    Keep up the good work, Greg.

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