We Are Stardust


You are a child of the universe.  No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

from “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann


Kevin and I bundle up at 9:00 pm and trudge out to the deck that juts into the woods off the back of the pottery studio. With the oaks, hickories and poplar trees now bare of leaves, the winter sky sparkles above us. We locate the constellation Gemini in the eastern sky, then sit back on the bench arm in arm, eyes adjusting to the darkness, and wait for the show.

Shooting stars – pieces of an asteroid, on their way around the sun. They streak above us, seeming to radiate from the Gemini twins. Some we wonder if we’ve seen at all. Others take their time falling through the night sky. It surprises me each time that anything with this much Fourth of July charisma could be so utterly without sound. The silence adds to the magic.

“It’s easy to imagine that we’re on this amazing ride through the universe on Spaceship Earth,” Kevin says. We both sit in wonder, visualizing ourselves here in our place on the planet, hurdling through space, passing through the tail of an asteroid. Which is exactly what’s happening.

Each year, in December, Planet Earth crosses the orbital path of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a mysterious space rock that dwells in orbit between Mars and Jupiter. As it approaches the sun, bits of this boulder overheat and fragment, then burn up as they cross Earth’s atmosphere. Thus, the magic of the Geminids.

We are stardust. “We were once and we will be again.” That’s what Eugene Worley, retired aerospace engineer, quite literally a rocket scientist—a man who helped put Neil Armstrong on the moon—tells his Alabama Sunday school class.   His certainty in this in no way conflicts with his Christian beliefs.

Everything and every one that has ever been here still dwells here in some form. Every plant, animal, rock, worm, dinosaur, caveman, ancestor. Every passenger pigeon, black rhinoceros, ivory bill woodpecker. Anything or anyone who ever looked up in wonder at a shooting star, from Cro-Magnon to the ancient Greeks to Galileo, from the founding fathers to the native Americans, right down to my husband and me side by side, staring up at the night sky.

We’re all still here. Cycling and recycling on the amazing, mysterious Planet Earth. Right now, it’s Kevin and me—the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Christians and the Muslims, the protesters and the law enforcement officers, the criminals and the victims. The judges and the juries. The whales and the dolphins. The turtles in their cozy burrows, the polar bears in their frozen caves. We are stardust—voyagers together on this crushingly sad, achingly blissful journey through the universe.