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  • Writer's pictureLianne van der Walt

Star Gazing

Star gazing on the back lawn is one of my most precious childhood memories. As soon as dinner was done and the dishes washed, my dad and I would grab a rug and head outside to our backyard. Stretched out on the dew-laden grass in the dark, hands folded behind our heads - we lost ourselves in the wonder of the great star-studded night sky. One of our rescue cats would appear, purring with pleasure at having us in their domain, their rumbling body curling up against us. We stayed out braving the chilly night air as long as we could, hoping my mum would forget that I was up way past my bedtime. She never did – she was and still is a stickler for routine.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.” ~ Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Dad showed me the different constellations and how to draw a line between the stars of the Southern Cross so that I could find true south. He showed me Orion’s belt, Venus in all her brilliance and the Milky way. I was never satisfied until I had spotted a shooting star – I was rarely disappointed. The phases of the moon mesmerized me – the way parts of it seemed to vanish into the shadows. The orange Harvest moon low and heavy on the horizon, the perfect full moon brilliant, its fluorescence making it appear closer than normal, and the dark new moon - just as intriguing as you knew it had to be there. I was fascinated by her every mood. No matter where I am today, I will still go outside at night to look up at the sky.

Star gazing has taught me so much about Life. The almost incomprehensible fact that starlight as I was seeing it then, had left its star of origin long before dinosaurs even walked the earth – this put time into perspective for me. I realized that time exists only in our immediate experience and understanding of it. My imagination travelled at the speed of light to far off planets where I wondered what life would look like. Leaving planet Earth and exploring the infinite possibilities of the universe made me forget about my personal dramas. Distance created perspective.

As strange as it may sound, these astral travels kept me grounded and secure in the knowledge that there was something much bigger going on. My life and its accompanying story could only be an infinitely minute part of a much bigger event. Something much greater was playing out all in the exact same ‘time’ that I was worrying about such ordinarily mundane things as homework and upcoming exams. I sensed that as important as my life seemed to be for me, in reality it was just a speck of light, almost as brief as that of a shooting star as it trails across the sky before it disappears. My mind could not always rationalize these thoughts, but they were what I instinctively felt to be true.

“We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.” ~ Rumi

These precious moments set the tone of the rest of my adult life. My parents taught me to think, to wonder, observe and imagine. Dad taught me that there was more to life than just my personal experience of it. These gifts of his time – especially after a long day at work made my world. Going to sleep at night, I felt secure in the knowing that as small as I was, somehow my existence was part of a much greater plan. Not one of us could ever be just a random after-thought. Just as starlight continues for thousands of years after the star has disappeared – so too will our light shine and remind those who are yet to come that we were once here.

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