When I was a kid, my dad would take us out in the back yard of our summer bungalow in Point Pleasant, New Jersey to star gaze. We had these big Adirondack chairs and he’d tip one against the other so that when we climbed into them, we’d be nearly prone–perfect for looking up at the diamond-lit sky. This is such a sweet memory for me that I had a couple of my characters do the same thing in my very first novel, Private Relations.
Fast forward to this week. We’re at our place on Topsail Island, where the sky is jet black at night and perfect for star gazing. The long broad bench in the picture runs nearly the length of our deck, so the other night I took a big comforter, stretched it out on the bench, and lay down in the pitch black night to watch the stars.
I can’t think of a better activity for putting one’s life into perspective than star gazing. It makes me feel inconsequential, and for some reason, I find that inconsequential feeling strangely comforting. I lay there thinking about those people thousands of years ago who watched the same stars and listened to the same waves, and those people thousands of years from now who will do the same. I thought fondly about my Dad. I thought about one of the themes in the book I was revising–how we change, how we’re not the same person we were a decade ago, or even yesterday. My mind was filled with giant thoughts and giant questions, the sort that overwhelm in a good way and make you grateful for every breath you’re lucky enough to take.
And then I began to notice something out of the corner of my eye. On the railing above the bench where I lay, I saw a small dark mound, a silhouette against the slightly lighter sky. A shell one of the kids left on the railing, I thought, and I started to reach for it.
But then it moved. I turned on my flashlight and illuminated the biggest honkin’ cockroach I’ve ever seen. I was off that bench and back to reality so fast I nearly tripped over my feet. I had to laugh. I mean, what else can you do? Talk about putting things in perpective. Thousands of years ago, there were cockroaches under the stars. Thousands of years from now, they’ll still be here. Hopefully, we will be too.
So, that was the end of my deep reverie on the mysteries of life. I went inside, shuddering a little from my run-in with the natural world. I snuggled into bed (after checking under the covers for critters) and turned on my iPad to read. It was time to lose myself in someone else’s mysterious life for a while.