by Jennifer on September 1, 2009

Last winter, my sister and my kids and I visited Kitt Peak Observatory, not far from Tucson.

I remember something that the observatory guide said that night, “When we look at the sky, we’re looking at the past.”

That one sentence has clung to me for all these months. I know it’s a scientific explanation for what looks like magic from my backyard, but it’s haunting to think that we can’t know what’s happening out there right now. It takes something like 4.3 light years for the light from the closest star in the sky at night to reach Earth, and the light from the farthest stars takes 10 or 11 billion light years to reach us. So whatever is really going on in our solar system tonight – not what we see, but what is happening in real time – no one will even see from Earth for years, centuries, millenia, longer.

To me, that does the same explosive thing to my brain as trying to imagine forever.

And yet, it’s also comforting.

We can see the past from a distance, where it shines or even fades, if we squint against it. What’s happening here on Earth matters as little to whoever is out there in the universe as what happens there matters here. There’s freedom in that.

Make the best of this life, make this one life shine as much as you can, until it drops like a flare out of sight.

Things are changing, and I can feel it.  And because things begin long before we ever know it, the future is already on its way to me, to all of us. On some horizon, speeding toward us or moving in achingly slow turns, something is rising. Full, bright.

And I’m turning toward it.

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