Last night my mom and I went out to see if there were any stragglers from the Perseid meteor shower. We had missed the peak days because of work, and illness, and all the other daily reasons why you miss beautiful, special things like meteor showers, but we decided that, by golly, we would go out when we could, and see what we could see, even if, like the bear in the song, all that we could see was the other side of the mountain.
The sky was cooperating more or less — a bit hazy, with some scattered clouds, but already through the car window I could see more stars than I was used to seeing in Boston. We drove around New Hampshire back streets for a while, but there were too many trees. We drove through the campus of Saint Anselm college which was so well-lit it made me think something must have happened to incite the college to plant more and more lamp posts along the paths, lighting up every inch of the grounds until women were safe-ish. I noticed my thoughts, then, and the increase of my heartbeat, and took a deep breath. You don’t have to think about things like that right now. I told myself. It’s okay. Breathe deeply and think about what is actually happening. I looked at my mom’s arm next to me, bare and warm in a tank top, and used it to ground my thoughts in the moment. How easily I move out of time, into thoughts and feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant. You are here, now. Be here.
We drove for maybe a half an hour and then my mom remembered that there was a new section to the cemetery being prepared, a field dug out and planted with grass seed, waiting for new residents. You’re here now. You’re alive. We pulled over and took the blanket out of the emergency pack my brother had made for us for Christmas one year. In the dark the green camouflage pattern looked like greys and blacks, the swoops and swirls mimicking the shadows on the grass and pavement as we made our way carefully around the fence and into the empty field, a single cricket greeting us by the gate.
“I see an animal,” I said, grabbing my mother’s arm. “I think it’s a skunk.” I could clearly see the glint of its eyes, the black and white pattern, and the wobbly movement of its walk as it came toward us. “Where?” my mom asked, and I took the flashlight from her and pointed it towards…a small piece of white wood. No eyes, no movement. Just white next to the black of the night. “Okay,” I said, “I have an overactive imagination.”
We picked our way carefully down the road and onto the field, then spread out the blanket and lay down, waiting for our eyes to adjust to the light. “It doesn’t look black to me yet,” my mom said, “Where it should be black it looks greyish.”
“That’s because of the Bible,” I said, “The psalm says, ‘Even the darkness will not be dark to you.”*
“Very funny,” said my mom.
We lay quietly for awhile, watching the sky. I tried not to think of cars going by, of people, of whether it was entirely safe for us to be out here alone at ten thirty at night. We didn’t know which direction to look in, so we gazed upward and tried to be aware of the periphery of our vision as well. After a few minutes we started to chat, catching up on our lives, talking about God and church and our struggles with finding our place.
Then: “There’s one!” my mom cried, pointing.
“Aw, I didn’t see it.”
And a few minutes later, in unison, “Look, I saw one!” Then a few more, all short and not very bright. We realized they were all towards the north, near the big and little dipper, so we got up and turned our blanket towards Canada. Pine trees rimmed the horizon, and the edge star of the big dipper began to sink below them. I imagined the bowl of the dipper filling up with pine sap.
“None of these are very impressive,” I said to my mom.
“No,” she said.
“Come on, sky!” I exclaimed, “Give us some nice big ones!”
Then I laughed and said, cajolingly,
“Come on, little meteors! Come hang out with us here. The atmosphere is fun, I promise. Nice and warm — it won’t burn you up, really.” We laughed.
“The dew’s out,” I said, a little while later. “The blanket’s damp. And I’m starting to get a little cold and tired.”
“Okay, sky,” my mom said, “We want to see three big ones, and then we’ll go home.”
We chatted a little more, but we didn’t talk much about the hard stuff. Dad just got a walker, but for now he’s still able to go to the jails and do the ministry he loves. Mom’s job is hard, but she needs it for the health insurance. We’re not really sure what will happen next, when they’ll need to move to a place without stairs, how much longer mom can do this job before it gets too hard. There would be time to talk about that tomorrow. For now we talked about poetry and prayer, about our friends, about the constellations and the falling stars.
“Okay, God,” my mom said, “I’m going to count to ten, and if there’s not a really big one we’re going home. One…two…three…” She slowed down as she approached ten, allowing extra time for God’s recalcitrance.
“Ten,” she said, and her voice was so calm and certain that I was a little surprised when nothing happened. We waited for a few more minutes, anyway, and then helped each other up, picking up the damp blanket and walking easily back to the car, now that our eyes had adjusted to the night.