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Light-Years and What I Have Failed to Do

“Look outside now!” Rosanne texts to the Neighborhood Gals chain. “A strawberry moon!”

I run to the deck but I’ve got too many trees. I can’t see the moon at all. More like the “essence” of the moon - some red blur behind the trees to the east, where I know the moon should be.

The sky at nite in the Chicago area is a tricky thing to see. The stars can be upstaged by city, highway or mall lights. The rising moon tempting you, like a toddler playing hide and seek behind the trees.

My Uncle Tim was a NASA Director. We could see stars and planets and moons and satellites on his roof in Satellite Beach, Florida. One of the most kind and patient men I’ve ever known - he would answer our questions on that flat roof for hours. Gave us each a good long turn at the telescope, explaining to each of us what we were seeing. He would answer questions calmly and with what seemed like big words back then - describing this planet - or that satellite’s orbit. Or that it could take tens of thousands of years for some star’s light to reach us. I loved how he talked to us - like we understood, like we were adults.

I recently read a Japanese philosopher who was all about taking a long time. He encouraged us to “walk at 3 MPH”. My mom would’ve loved this. When I was a teen ager in the car with her I would roll my eyes and tell her she was taking the “long way” - to wherever we were going. I was 17 and I knew better.

“I like this way, “ she would say. “I like how the trees form a canopy over our heads on this street.” And if I paused my rolling teen eyes at the top, sneak a look out the window - sure enough - the elm trees on Arden Avenue were as dense as a boxwood hedge over our heads.

It’s easier to go 3 MPH here in Covidland. A perfect time to pause, listen and hear from our friends who are Black.

Like bright stars hidden by trees of privilege, their message went unseen or heard - or just glimpsed at through time - by me. For what surely must seem like thousands of years to them. But they have been talking to me like adults. Thinking I would respond like an adult.

A prayer from Catholic grade school comes to mind. One we recited daily as kids long before it had any meaning to us at all. The Act of Contrition - where I would confess my sins - “in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

I want to get the telescope out now. Read. Listen. Get around the damn trees and see the stars. Answer with action. Like the adult I am.


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