The full moon peaked gently through the window wondering if the old man was awake. The old man responding to the moons warm glow stirred himself from bed slipping off the oxygen mask. He dressed and searched for the small bottle of brandy hidden under his socks in the dresser. Slipping the bottle into his pocket as he exited the room he shuffled down the corridor towards the main entrance. The night warden was snoring gently at his desk as the old man stole quietly past, exiting the nursing home by the front door. Breathing harshly he labored to complete the half mile to the field at the entrance to the woods and dropped exhausted to the ground propping his back against the trunk of a giant oak.
Away from the lights of the nursing home he feasted his eyes on the myriad of stars sparkling in the heavens and his soul responded with an unexpected leap of delight. As he continued to drink in this sweet elixir his body relaxed and he gloried in a calmness he had not felt for an age. He took a sip of brandy, coughed and hunched more into the tree.
Reminiscing over his 92 years lived on this earth he could only wonder at the passage of time, how it now all seemed like some distant dream. One thing he knew for certain, was at this particular moment he felt he was truly awake for the first time. A refrain from the Desiderata flowed through his mind:
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. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be.
How long before the sun consumed its energy? He seemed to remember that it would be around five billion years. Nothing lasted forever, everything had only so much energy. Would the human race survive? To what manner of species would humans evolve? What would the universe look like a billion years from now? He spent the night in quiet introspection sipping his brandy, his breath coming in gasps but reveling in the silence and warm air. He saw the stars begin to fade and heard the first chorus of bird song as the sun began its ascent to the heavens. He smiled.
A short time later another microscopic fragment of star dust, 13.8 billion years in the making, expired, its energy depleted. The earth continued on its journey, 107,000 kph around the sun, and the sun and the solar system continued its 828,000 kph journey around it’s galaxy.
Reena’s challenge this week was to write on the partial poem below written by Rebecca Elson (1960-1999). Elson was a distinguished astronomer and poet who died of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma at the age of 39. She was particularly famous for her work on globular clusters. Her poems were published posthumously as “A Responsibility to Awe” in 2001.
ANTIDOTES TO FEAR OF DEATH
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood: