The Stars Below Us

December 17th, 2018

I do not fly very often. I dislike being in an aircraft. This is odd, seeing as I was once a helicopter pilot for five years, but it’s true. I find flying commercially to be cramped and uncomfortable. The trip is some thing to endure, not to enjoy.

My flight home from D.C. took me via Newark, New Jersey. I don’t know why. That’s just how it went. By some stroke of luck, I had a window seat. That made me feel slightly less claustrophobic. It was early evening when the plane took off from Washington National, and it was already quite dark. The sky was clear and cloudless. From the tarmac I could see a thin slice of the crescent moon setting in the west.

The route taken by the pilot took us over highly urbanized areas. The stretch between Washington and Newark is essentially one big city. From an altitude of twenty thousand feet, any dark spaces on the ground looked to be rivers or lakes. All of the land was brightly lit up. The lights were fascinating in a curious way.

From where I was sitting I could look to the east. There was an orange haze on the horizon. Rising above it, I could make out the constellation of Orion. Below the horizon were thousand upon thousands of man made stars. The sky above seemed dim and empty, but the sky below was alive with the patterns of a restless humanity. Our species has forged a new Milky Way, a band of lights uncountable and of endless variety.

Last year, Karin and I spent a few days at a monastery in New Mexico. It was place so dark that the night sky was ablaze with the frozen fire of countless stars. I remember that looking up into the heavens was an overwhelming experience. Strangely, when I was in the airplane, I felt the same way, except that I was looking down instead of up.

I am always grateful when I feel a sense of wonder, a feeling of awe. Usually, this feeling comes from contact with the natural world. However, sometimes, although not very often, this feeling is a result of the works of men and women. Humanity is part of nature, so I guess this makes sense.

I rejoice in any kind of beauty. I rejoiced to see the flickering lights of the stars below us.


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