The noted astronomer began harmlessly enough. Proudly, he held up a steaming, baked potato in front of us. It symbolized a white, dwarf star, gazillions of miles away from our uncomfortable, folding chairs. By calculating the rate at which the potato, and thus the star, cooled, science could assess the age of our galaxy. When he excitedly announced that our good, old, planet earth has been around for at least 13 ½ billion years, ‘Yippee’ did not come to mind. Black holes did.
As the others lined up to gaze at M-13 through the telescope, I lost my zeal. I kept imagining all the billions of people who weren’t here anymore. They were now like those faraway stars: infinitely, irrevocably untouchable. With all the eons of TIME out there, we’re stuck in ridiculously short ‘time shares,’ one breath away from being obsolete. ‘Is it possible to feel any smaller?’ I wondered.
Yup. “Stars don’t die all at once. The larger, densely packed, intense ones die the fastest.” (I’m thinking James Dean). “The smaller, less dense, more demure ones last longest.” ( Betty White?) Uh Oh. According to my family, I’m as high-strung as a key on a kite in lightning. My oldest said just last week, “Mom. Why don’t you return to Disney and ask them to remove your animation chip?” My time may be shorter than I thought.
Now I’ve had stars in my eyes. I’ve stepped on the stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese. I’ve dated stars. I‘ve stuck the glow-in-the-dark ones above my children’s cribs. But never have the stars seemed less appealing. So, when the astronomer finished, I asked: “Okay. Now that we know how old the galaxy is, and that one day, billions of years from now, the universe will go dark and there will be no stars—what does this mean personally, for you, right now?’ “Um. . .Well. . .I guess. . . I. . . just don’t know the answer to that,” he said sadly.
But I do. Tonight the Perseid meteor shower will be in full view and I will watch all those falling stars fall. It will remind me that dying is pretty from a distance. But mostly it will remind me of the nights Granny and I used to look up at those same stars and say: “Starlight, star bright. First star I see tonight. Wish I may. Wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.” (Hudson’s memoir, “Kissing Tomatoes,” recounts the 13 years she lived with her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s). http://www.helen-hudson.com.