Friday, December 2, 2016

My Father Is an Astronomer

I took the little kids to the library, this evening, for an event called A Starry Night. There were experts in attendance from the Science Museum of Virginia and the Richmond Astronomy Club. Inside, they explained about an evening sky map and star clocks, and outside, they shared their giant telescopes.

It was dark in the parking lot, so dark I could hardly see my children. I was straining, shushing, fussing, and periodically calling someone down from a hill after (s)he'd bolted. Meanwhile, without my realizing it, the line for a telescope formed just to my left and stretched behind me, so it took even longer for us to get to the front than it should have.

At last we reached the man with the telescope. He was short, older I think. I could just make out a glint from his glasses: his features, not at all. "I'm sorry," I said: "What should we see?"

"Oh, that's quite alright," he said, and he proceeded to say that we should see something resembling a cotton ball through the telescope. He called it an M15 star cluster, I think. He had several other things to say. I can't say what. I got lost in his voice.

In his voice, I got lost. It was a most ordinary voice: scientisty. His words were so devoid of variation and volume that his voice seemed barely-, hardly-there. Gentle. Factual without seeming matter-of-fact. It was as though he were very far away. I think I have tuned out similar man voices all my life; yet, I was completely arrested. Utterly entranced.

It was the greatest disappointment to walk away, to go back inside the library for cookies and cocoa. I wanted to stay in the dark, in the parking lot. I wanted to listen to a man I couldn't see tell me things about a cotton ball of stars in space.

Driving home, I thought to myself how I've changed: how I'm so done, so threadbare, so tired of yelling. How I hope to never again hear anyone, including myself, holler. How I want to spend my next life--not that I really believe in next lives--surrounded by people who talk like the man with the telescope.

I was wondering how different my life would be if that man were my dad. I was wondering; then, I heard it: "Your Father is an astronomer."