The air was still thick and humid at 11pm, left over from a 100-degree August afternoon that sautéed everything in its path. But moisture slowly seeped from pockets of muddy grass, as I lay on my back with arms folded behind and sunk my spent muscles into the blanketed ground. A light breeze began to swirl around the park and cooled the skin — like when a mother blows into her baby’s face to steal his attention.
The reason for this random outing was that, two Tuesdays ago, 37 people got it into their heads to stay up long past their bedtimes and lock eyes with the black sky in anticipation of the Perseid meteor shower. Like most showers, the highly-publicized Perseids were supposed to peak at the sleepy hour between 11pm and midnight, PST (2am EST). A group of us are considering a consultation with God about this for next time.
Of all the hyped up meteor showers in the past, I’ve still yet to see — or stay awake long enough for — a show impressive enough to leave me awestruck. But with half the country talking about it online, this wasn’t one to miss. After conspiring with a friend, I created public Facebook event and invited the world to a grand, virtual Perseid Meteor Shower Viewing Party. With eyes closed and muscles relaxed, the night was now ripe for imagination. Mesmerizing strains from Explosions in the Sky streamed from a seafoam green Bose speaker, as our Spotify playlist (hand-crafted for an optimum star-viewing experience) played track after track of whimsical pieces written from fellow crazy people who also liked to stare at the sky. Behind me, a deserted swingset stood lit from the glow of two lamp posts. First, came a plane. Then a satellite or two… or three. Scanning the panorama, I saw not a shooting star but a sudden burst of flapping blackness, as a bouquet of bats were released into the sky like tiny balloons.
Star-gazing wasn’t always seen as unusual or silly (friends who opted out of this event to hit your beds by 8, I’m talking to you). Once upon a time, astronomers, farmers, sailors, scientists, wise-men, and poets were dependent on what these bright lights in the sky were doing. Looking up at the sky was their livelihood, their navigation, their reverie. I guess what felt so special about this night was the fact that, in a culture where heads are so often bent downward, 37 people (or more) found the time and desire to sneak into the night with expectation. It mattered enough to forgo rest and routine; in exchange for sleepiness and some silliness, we got a chance to put down our phones and look up for a while instead (except for the occasional Instagram post; that happened too). We were looking for awe, for wonder, for beauty and mystery and to worship — and also if the journalists would be correct this time. There’s something about being up for an adventure that’s precious and childlike and kind of vital for not just surviving the mundaneness life can bring, but living a hope-filled, eternal perspective that echoes Romans 8:19: “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”
And who doesn’t like an adventure?
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring
Then — finally, after an hour of laying on the ground — it struck! After six small and insignificant meteors, I saw the brightest, most brilliant shooting star yet this year. Thanks, God, for being cool. Now I’ll let my crazy friends tell the rest of the story…
[Facebook check-ins throughout the night]
“Team North Star reporting… We have some high altitude clouds here, but we’re still heading out to see what we can!” -Kristin
“I invited a friend to watch with me. We only saw 8-10, but I found out these were the first shooting stars she had ever seen! That made the experience sort of magical.” -Jenny
“We went up to Wisconsin to get away from the city lights, armed with wine, chips, guacamole, hummus and vegetables. Such a great little road trip.” -Dawn
“I saw 9-10 in about 45 minutes. And I had my glasses licked by Sabe. And she stepped on me, on purpose.” -Patty
“Team North Star drove out to an old one-room schoolhouse and laid our blankets at the edge of a cornfield. The Milky Way was spectacular, and several of the meteors shot right across it. There was a thin veil of clouds in some areas, but we were able to see meteors beyond it. So cool!” -Kristen
“This was my eight-year-old son’s first meteor shower. He and my daughter (10) headed out back with me at 2AM, whereupon I threw a few sleeping bags down on the concrete for padding and commenced Perseidfest 2015. We stayed out for over an hour and caught a handful of meteors each — nothing spectacular, but we had plenty of starry sky and silliness to make it memorable.” -Peter
“Shooting stars mean something particularly special to me because they are a means by which God has communicated with me many times. About a year ago I started my night walks with God around campus, and I saw shooting stars during many of those walks. Usually, I saw exactly 3 per night. I could hear God’s voice telling me very clearly that I do not need to worry about anything, because his timing is always perfect. It doesn’t sound like much, but it meant more than I could ever say.” -Kiana
“We both leaned on our cars in silence gazing at the night sky and the quiet was only broken with, ‘Did you see that?’ Eventually the woman and her dog left. I was alone again with only the stars, a blinking traffic light, and Coldplay. ‘…Cause you’re a sky full of stars,’echoed in my head over and over again. In that moment, I was reminded of the last time I was on this same broodingly dark street looking for streams of light. It was last summer, attempting to watch the same group of meteors on a overcast night with the woman I thought I would marry. But on this night I was alone, looking for signs of movement in the sky as possible signs that life could move forward. That even the stars don’t remain in one place forever as they shoot from one existence to another. Praying a little prayer, I was thankful for the beauty God showed me as the Perseids fell to the earth, even though my heart has felt like beauty departed.” -Matthew
“Second shift, reporting for duty. Appears to be slightly hazy here on the north side of the metroplex.” -Peter
“Didn’t see anything here in western KY, but it is really a beautiful night! Thinking of all of you star gazers tonight.” -Brenda
“What direction am I supposed to look for this meteor shower? I’ve seen one owl, four planes, and about five mosquitoes.” -Tracy
“I’ll be watching it from home; the location of our hot tub blocks out all polluting light, making it a super-comfy place to watch the stars. Thanks for the invite though, I’ll be sure to listen to your playlist!” -Darin
“So this is like, something I can do without the internet or a screen at all, is what you’re saying? Like, I can look at the actual sky in real life and not on Netflix? There’s just a certain sense of security I get from being able to pause the meteor shower any time I want. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable with such a raw, unmanageable thing like an actual night sky.” -Matthew
“It was great last night!! I am working tonight but will try to sneak outside and see if I can see anything with all of the hospital light pollution.” -Leah
“I saw one. At least it was a good one. It might help if my neighbors would turn off their 1,000,000 watt porch light.” -Donna