I am sitting on the hood of my truck atop Afton mountain on a warm July night, taking the opportunity to do something I once did often but now not nearly enough.
I was six when my parents bought me my first telescope, a twenty-dollar special from K Mart. It was made of cheap plastic and the lens wasn’t very powerful, but to me it was magic. I spent countless nights in the backyard squinting through that telescope, peering into lunar seas and gazing at Saturn’s rings. I was spellbound.
As I grew older, the stars began to serve another purpose. They were my refuge, a physical manifestation of an inner longing to break free from both earth and life and fly away. The night sky was my perspective. Looking around always made everything seem so enormous and consequential. Looking up always reminded me of how truly small everything was.
Now? I suppose now those two sentiments mingle, swirled together in my heart as a patina that washes me in both awe and longing. I gaze up to gaze within and know my truest self – that both darkness and light can blend to form a scene of beauty and wonder. That despite whatever misgivings I may have, I can shine.
I lean back against the windshield, place my hat on a raised knee, and stare. Above me is what a friend refers to as “a Charlie Brown sky.” Pinpricks of light are cast in a sort of perfect randomness, as if God has sneezed a miracle.
I am not alone here. There are about twenty other people scattered along this overlook, fellow viewers of nature’s television. An awed silence envelopes most. All but one little girl sitting with her father in the bed of the truck next to me.
“Daddy?” she says. “Do we shine?”
A thoughtful question deserving of a thoughtful response.
“I think so,” he answers.
“It’s good to shine,” she says.
“Most times. I guess it depends on where the shine comes from.”
My head turns from the stars to them.
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“Well, you see that star over there?” He points to a bright speck above us. “That star gives its own shine. It doesn’t depend on anything else but itself to give it light. It’s on its own.”
“That’s a bright one,” she whispers.
“Yep. But one day, all that light will be gone. That star will run out of shine. But you see that over there?” he asks, pointing this time to a big, round ball.
“That’s the moon,” says the daughter. “I know all about the moon.”
“That so? Tell me.”
“Well, Mrs. Walker says the moon is dark and cold and dead. And it isn’t made of cheese, like Tommy Franklin said.”
“You have a smart teacher,” her father answers.
“I don’t want to be cold and dark and dead like the moon. I’d rather be a star.”
“But the moon shines, too. And it’s a better shine.”
“Because the shine isn’t the moon’s, it’s the sun’s. Light come from the sun, bounces off the moon, and lights the dark.”
“So moonlight is really sunlight?” she asks with a tone of both wonder and doubt. Mrs. Walker hasn’t gone over this yet.
“Yes. And because the moon is just reflecting the sun’s shine, it won’t get tired and start to fade.”
“So as long as the sun shines, the moon will, too?”
“You got it.”
The two sit in silence again, and my eyes move from them back to the sky.
A lot of us choose to stand in our own light. We want to be known for the things we do more than the people we are. “Look at me,” we say. “I’m special. Better.”
But we’re not. The more we try to shine our own light, the darker we’ll likely become. And sooner or later, we’ll fade. We don’t need to be stars in this life and be a light unto ourselves. It’s better to be a moon. Better to know that we can reflect the shine of someone greater and be a light to the world.
To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today