Reaching for the hem of Heaven

I love watching the stars, like LED Christmas lights pinned to a blanket stretched like a child’s bedroom tent over my head. They all seem to be the same distance from where I lay, just out of reach of my fingers, though in my mind I know the distances from me to them varies.

Low in the western sky, for instance, a red star we call Betelgeuse holds command, its fire-glow dimmed by years and millions of miles across which it has travelled to my eyes.

Scientists say Betelgeuse is expanding. It already is huge. If a celestial Indiana Jones were to grab our sun with one hand and with his other hand slip Betelgeuse into its place, the new sun would occupy the space from our sun to past Jupiter, devouring the first five planets of our solar system.

The good news for planets in its burning path is Betelgeuse is nearing its expiration date. Soon. Maybe within 100,000 years. Certainly sometime in the next million years or so.

Unless, of course, that climaxing star Betelgeuse has already popped, like a balloon stretched beyond its capacity. Whenever it happens, the fireball will explode into a super nova and, briefly, become the brightest object in the sky. It is so far away that the light from that immense event would not reach Earth for more than 700 years.

As I sit in the dark on a summer night, I ponder the possibility that someone, perhaps many someones, are gazing back at the light bouncing off my planet. I wonder what name they give what I call Earth.

Talk about “something bigger than myself.” I stare into panoply of sparkling party candles that reflect from stars so far away some of them have not existed for millions, maybe billions, of years.

I don’t remember how it felt on being ejected from the sightless world of Mother’s liquid-filled womb. I was present, of course, as were all of us, respectively, but we are endowed with forgetfulness. I have heard that when a child begins to talk in whole sentences, she forgets she was ever unable to thus communicate.

I think it’s like that for a baby who has not discovered the difference in distance between the colored shapes he cannot quite reach near his head and the similarly colored shapes across the room. Both are simply out of reach. Then one day he discovers what we always knew – we can reach them; we just have not yet figured out how.

So I sit in the darkness of Terran night, looking up at the “sky” and seeing stars, all about the same out-of-reach distance from my grasp. To my eyes, Mars and Alpha Centauri – the nearest star system to mine – are about the same distance from where I sit, 155 million and 26 trillion miles, respectively.

In one of his songs, “Aurora Borealis,” country music star C.W. McCall told of a camping partner who looked up and commented, “Smog, clear out here in the sticks.”

“Hey, Joe. That’s not smog; that’s the Milky Way,” he was told.

Which isn’t milk at all, but the reflections of millions of rocks in the limitless bounds of our celestial neighborhood, each racing on its own path through whatever defines the universe. The question begs: why do more of them not collide.   It’s difficult for us mere mortals to conceive of space without limits. Since the beginning of human time, we have been expanding our definition of “the Universe.” Every time we think we are about to touch the hem of Heaven, we discover we still have a way to go.

Thanks for coming along. By the way, Sunday, May 15, a super blood moon is on the celestial schedule, beginning at about 10:27 p.m. Check it out, and please hit a share button or two.

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