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.