There’s no such thing as aimless stargazing. It may start that way, but as soon as a single object is acknowledged, that’s the end of the aimlessness. That first moment, though, can be magical. Wrapped in brevity, it remains spectacular.
Really, does anything beat serendipity? There are times when we look for something specific and, when found, rejoice in our persistence. But, when chance alone, a fleeting glance, delivers a gift, ah, that’s when all is right in the world.
You see, stargazing isn’t just about the stars. Whatever your hobby may be, it’s a pathway to something that can’t always be defined. On a mid-March night, tired and hoping for a little more sleep than I’d gotten the night before, I mindlessly put my shoes back on, grabbed a sweatshirt and walked outside. I think I did it to create some distance from the room where scenes of war came endlessly from the TV.
My little front porch was bathed in light from a full Moon well up in the east. I had no choice but to stare at its craters, its seas, the mishmash patterns of light and dark that have been rationalized into the shape of a face.
And, in that instant, war and violence and illness and everything else took second place. That was my serendipitous moment, and from there it was game on.
I needed just a few steps more to see the rest of the sky. Slowly, I turned counterclockwise. There was the Big Dipper, standing on its handle, its pointer stars taking me to Polaris, the North Star. Capella was next, unfazed by the Moon’s intensity, reminding me just how magnificent it really is. I kept turning. The Big W, Cassiopeia, warmed me with its familiarity and I tried to use it to see the Andromeda Galaxy, but the sky was just too bright.
I wanted to continue the tour, but a small, faint little group of stars kept pulling me back. I thought it might be the tiny constellation Delphinus, but it was in the wrong place. And so, I kept staring at this one spot until I realized it was the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. The Moon’s glow had erased the haze that usually surrounds them. They looked rather forlorn, begging to be back in the darkness where their combined luminosity elicits a beauty most can only dream of.
Finally, I wound up gazing at mighty Orion, and then at Sirius, the sky’s brightest star. I’d come full circle. It wasn’t aimless, but it wasn’t planned. And, somehow, all of it led to memories of a time long ago, a half century past, when little of my life needed to be planned, when my friends and I would scrounge up a couple of dollars for gas that would let us drive around all night. Those car rides were a young man’s version of a tour of the night sky, a slice of life detached from everything else, as close to aimlessness as we could hope to get.
The ancient Greeks called certain lights in the sky “planetes” because they seemed to wander among the stars. Clearly, though, we’re the wanderers, sometimes by design and sometimes serendipitously. Whether we’re teenagers hitting the streets in search of exhilaration or whether we’re grandfathers searching the sky for a promise of peace within a lifetime of sustained war, there’s a restlessness that always precedes both discovery and introspection.
The thing is, illumination doesn’t guarantee change, just awareness. When I walked back inside my home, war was still raging, misery remained unabated. But, for a moment – and that moment was the best I could do – I’d wandered away and enjoyed a gift, undefinable perhaps, but very appreciated. That’s the joy of stargazing. It lets you wander a bit, maybe even a little bit aimlessly, toward something you were always meant – and needed – to find.