In the predawn on Sunday, my husband and I put on our heavy jackets, put the dog on the leash, and walked to the local park to watch the Leonid meteor shower. It was still very dark, the sky brilliant with stars and the constellations standing in bold relief.
And there they were, just as promised, these extraordinary long flashes of light, appearing in all quarters of the sky, some brighter or with longer tails, all mesmerizing.
Lights appear out of nowhere, and then disappear into nowhere. You never know where they will show up, and a lot you miss. And you're a little confused all the time because you're expecting the flash and simultaneously you're surprised that it even exists. And then you just keep on expecting the flash and being surprised at the same time.
But this is really different from hanging around among fireflies. If you stare at the sky for any length of time - and maybe lengthy craning of the neck is all you really need to go cosmic - you start to realize you're operating on a totally different scale. Shooting stars start to seem like kid stuff, embellishments, graceful counterpoints to an even bigger story.
The visceral sense you get is one of the sheer immensity and power of the space above you, that it is always still, always there, always the big bowl that has you inside it no matter what. No getting outside. It's even always lit. Barring cloud cover, you can always get your bearings if you know your stars.
And then below you and beyond you and all around there's the ground, the earth: dense, unequivocal, and sound, sound as a rock. It is profoundly heavy and huge and seems practically to hum with vitality. And there you are with your two, very own, extraordinary feet standing right there. On that ground.
How did you get here?
You stand in the dark, a tiny, incredulous person. Dawn comes soon, and things will wake up, with all their energy and variety. And you are allowed to receive this surrounding place, the world of the sky and the ground - and stillness.