See how they shine for you

My weekend in a nutshell:
Friday: in the depths of my personal emotional hell
Saturday: that serene contentedness and oneness with the universe that comes from unfeeling
Sunday: lost like a kite without a string

Went to see the Perseids on Saturday night with some friends whom I haven’t seen in far too long. Lick Observatory is a pretty nice spot to see the skies, which is probably not that surprising given that people decided to build an observatory there. The light pollution from the San Jose area was quite noticeable, but still did not detract that much from the starwatching experience — the sky was quite clear throughout the entire night. What made the experience surreal, though, was that the temperature on Mt. Hamilton never dropped below around 60F. The fleece jacket and scarf were completely unnecessary, as even t-shirt and shorts would have sufficed the entire night. Just staring and staring at the stars for 6 hours was a much-needed perspective-shifting experience from the madness of the week before.

When looking up at the stars on a clear night, it’s hard to not believe that the stars are just pinpricks showing light through some cosmic fabric, little glimpses of that elusive heaven outside our universe. Despite all the science that we know, it’s so hard to truly grasp the distances from which even the closest stars’ light have traveled. And we still use terms like “shooting stars” that belie our shedding of those ancient cosmologies.

To think that (almost) all the stars have been there since the first humans looked up into the night sky, and will continue to be there after our story as a species closes — that is about as close to the infinite that we can grasp.

It’s strange to think that the shooting stars we see are so much infinitesimally smaller than the stars that shine behind them. Yet from our perspective here on earth, we can’t help but imagine them to be of the same essence. It’s kind of funny how we seem to ascribe so much more to those ephemeral bursts of burning dust: like our own lives, so very brief and small, but because they are close to us, so much more wonderful.

On our way down from Mt. Hamilton, we drove by a forest fire, which seemed and still seems absolutely absurd. Luckily, although it was right by the road, it was not too large as we drove by it, but a little down the mountain, we did notice it spreading somewhat quickly. Someone ahead of us must have called 911 because fire trucks were rather quick to arrive at the location; how they had cell phone reception is a mystery.

But it’s our perspective again that makes a wildfire so much more pressing than flecks of dust vaporized by the atmosphere or giant balls of gas undergoing nuclear fusion zillions of miles away. How much brighter a fire seems, although the moon was also bright.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it helps to look at our place in the universe once a while to re-set our perspectives on life. And sometimes the universe throws you a bone, and it is timely.