Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Heavenly Alignment

When I was a child, I remember all the excitement around eclipses. My parents would wake us up in the middle of the night and drive to mountain peaks so that we could see lunar eclipses. If there was a solar eclipse due, the schools turned the day into an astronomy experiment, and everyone made safe viewers and we all viewed, and it was so cool.

Two nights ago, we were all a party to a total lunar eclipse. In the time-honored tradition, even though the weather was iffy, we set the alarm for midnight.

When the alarm went off, we ran out to see if there was anything to see. Yes! And so, we ran back in, to wake the children, telling them to bundle up.

Once outside, I said to the kids, "look straight up, and you see the full moon. We are standing on the earth. In nearly a straight line below the earth, millions of miles away, is the sun. In the next half hour, our earth will completely block the light of the sun from the moon, as it moves into a complete straight line with the earth and the moon!"

A few minutes later, clouds accumulated overhead, obscuring our view. Back to bed went the children.

But for a moment, I think that they could feel that ancient sense of alignment that all people who have ever been stargazers feel when such events occur. That sense of being part of a great celestial mobile of gravitational pull and mathematically precise patterns of movement.

The human story is filled with stars and planets and the wonder of being among them. The earth moves under our feet, as it floats in its course through space in attraction with the glorious light of the sun.

Such events remind us that we really are, all of us, astronauts, flying through space.

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