I'm sure I had seen one before, but for some reason this particular instance stands out as the most important. It's funny thinking back on childhood memories, what now rings out as the singular moment of discovery was most likely not the first time I experienced whatever it was that I did, but is that really important? I would venture to say that it's not, because the magic of that singular moment, when all the dots line up and whatever the wonder is, sinks in for the first time is no less magical than had it been the first.
That's why I'm sure I had seen one before, but to the credit of my childhood memory, it was the first one that stuck. I was on a week long class trip. We had been to see the Royal Gorge and its impressive high suspension bridge. I had been swept up in my Papa's arms as I ran screaming from the tarantula that crossed our path as we explored the rocky terrain surrounding it. We had hiked and discovered and teased each other over various childhood things, most likely having to do with cooties. Everything was as it should be.
But something was different the night we hiked up to the top of a hill with our sleeping bags, blankets, flashlights, and something new, high expectations. We had challenged each other to a shooting star counting competition. The stakes were high and my confidence was quickly waning. John B had of course already seen two... then four... then five (he may have been fibbing)... no matter, I was beginning to think I would never see one. Each time someone shouted "there's one!" I was looking in the wrong direction. I tried as hard as I could to align myself and my energy with the Milky Way Galaxy that night, but to no avail. Soon everyone had seen one, except me... I was devastated. I walked down from the hill utterly defeated, all my classmates had seen a shooting star, made a wish, and felt that wonder.
That was not the night I saw my first shooting star, but it was the night I woke up to the possibility of seeing one. After that night, my head was constantly held in the direction of the night sky, watching and patiently waiting. This went on for a few weeks, and in that time something happened. I began to notice the movements of the stars, the phases of the moon, the patterns dotting the deep blue landscape, and how much or how little the stars twinkled each night. I fell in love. The stars and I became friends. I got to know the constellations and their stories, and soon I became part of those stories too. I would jump into the big dipper, hang upside down with Cassiopeia, and be rescued by my knight in shining armour, Orion.
After a few weeks I didn't even care about seeing a shooting star, I just wanted to hang out with my friends, which is of course when it happened... out of the corner of my eye I saw it streak across the northern sky. It was tiny and faint, yet bright as day to the first-timer. I'm quite certain the world stopped, or possibly my heart did, maybe just for a milisecond. I gazed in sheer amazment at the place where it had fallen for some time, maybe another would fall in the same place? No. But it didn't matter, I had seen one, and I would never be the same.
Since then I have seen many shooting stars (yes I know, they aren't really shooting/falling stars), I have seen meteor showers that left me awe struck, and I have even held a meteor in my hands, fully impressed by the weight of the universe. It never gets old. Each night the stars are out I say to myself "hello friends," and look up for as long as I can.
P.S. Check back after noon today to see the winner of the 365 Starry Nights book giveaway!
*Last time in Books and Stories: Starry Nights