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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday January 5th, 2024 – Looking UP

Perhaps the focus of this post should be on surviving into 2024. What a surprise! At one point in my life, living into the 1990s seemed unlikely. But what I ended up reflecting on when sitting down to write this post was the night sky where time distance is measured by a far different yardstick, millions of light years. To follow through with the theme of recovery, the sky for me signifies recovery and its wonders. In active addiction, I spent a whole lot of time looking down at the ground. Both the sky and recovery is about limitless possibility. They are about looking up!


In this season, Orion, Canis Major, Taurus and Scorpius rise up over the horizon line and move across the sky as we slumber. To the ancients, the night sky who did not have the soft glow of smart phones and TVs at night, the heavens were a source of entertainment, one still available to us if we want to experience it. Unless we live in places with severe light pollution, we can go out at night and see the same features they saw. There is no better time for star gazing than in winter. The air is more stable, so they shine and twinkle with deeper intensity and clarity.   


There are a few things to look forward to in January and into the year as far as celestial happenings. A program of celestial events for January can be found here. It is not a particularly notable list, but there are some comets and other things that you can see with a telescope or even a decent quality set of binoculars. As far as planets go, Mercury and Venus are morning objects rising shortly before the Sun. In the evening, Jupiter is the main event in the dusk sky, with Saturn playing second fiddle. The big event of the year, at least in my book is the total solar eclipse that will run through the western part of my home state of Pennsylvania on April 8th, 2024. I hope the weather cooperates!  


I confess that a lot of the times when I have planned to go out in the middle of the night and see a meteor shower or some other event, and I do not do so. The weather does not always cooperate and even sometimes I set my alarm clock and then, upon waking up, I roll over and go back to sleep. But on the limited number of times, I followed through, the experiences were memorable. There is something about the night sky that is humbling. Space goes on forever. The stars shining down on us as a twinkle, with light they generated ages ago. As Horton surmised, we are a dust speck on the universal scale. All of Human history is less than a blink of time on the cosmic scale. When I am reminded of how infinitesimally small we are comforting in an odd way. It reminds me to keep troubles in perspective.


The next time you go outside at night. Stop, take a deep breath and look up. Consider that every human who has ever existed has seen a sky that is much like the one you see as you gaze skyward. Consider for another moment the experience of William Shatner of Star Trek fame. He briefly visited space in 2021. He became the oldest human to ever have left our planet. His full account is in this article. It had been a lifelong dream of his to visit space, and he imagined it would be wonderous and the most joyful experience of his life. Instead, he looked out into the cold darkness of space and then back down to this little blue ball we all live on and felt sadness and yearned for mother earth. In his words:


“I love the mystery of the universe. I love all the questions that have come to us over thousands of years of exploration and hypotheses. Stars exploding years ago, their light traveling to us years later; black holes absorbing energy; satellites showing us entire galaxies in areas thought to be devoid of matter entirely… all of that has thrilled me for years… but when I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold . . . all I saw was death.


I saw a cold, dark, black emptiness. It was unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth. It was deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. I turned back toward the light of home. I could see the curvature of Earth, the beige of the desert, the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky. It was life. Nurturing, sustaining, life. Mother Earth. Gaia. And I was leaving her. Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong.


I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things—that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe. In the film “Contact,” when Jodie Foster’s character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, “They should’ve sent a poet.” I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.”


One of the things that looking up at the night sky reminds me of is how incredibly fortunate we are to be standing here on this tiny little speck of rock. How grateful I am to be here, now.

What are you grateful for today?

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