Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Photo from International Meteor Organization)

Ecclesiasticus 43: 9-10:

The glory of the stars is the beauty of heaven,
a glittering array in the heights of the Lord.
On the orders of the Holy One they stand in their appointed places;
they never relax in their watches.

If there is one thing I can count on about being on "the rural grid," it is that I can plan on having a power outage that makes no sense. Now, don't get me wrong. Our little rural electric co-op, Tri-County Electric, works hard to keep the power going, and their service folks are quite on the ball. But rural electricity is rural electricity. When it goes out, it might take a spell to figure out what exactly is going on, and miles of folks can be affected temporarily.

I expect a power outage when there's an ice storm. I expect one after a run of brutal 100 degree Missouri summer days in the middle of a drought. But I do not expect one on a night where the day's high temperature was only 85 degrees and it's a cool, cloudless, seemingly perfect night.

I was just sitting down to grade some med student labs, and...BLAMMO. The power went out.

Not particularly feeling like either lighting a candle OR cursing the darkness, I decided instead to go outside. We are actually in one of my favorite late summer spells, the time of the Perseid meteor showers, so I chose to go outside and just look at the sky and see what's out there.

This has not been a great week and a half. A week ago Thursday, I received word that a friend of mine, whose history with me goes back more than three decades, had taken the 90 mile helicopter trip to Columbia for emergency surgery to stem a subdural hematoma. She was only four treatments away from finishing her chemotherapy for colon cancer. The chemo had weakened her quite a bit, and she was constantly struggling with anemia and a low platelet count. In her weakened state, she was having trouble with falls. She fell and hit her head, which precipitated the bleed.

It was a live version of that old bit of medical dark humor; "The operation was a success and the patient died." She was stable following surgery to remove the blood clot. There was no indication that she was anyplace different than what I call "Neurosurgical world"--that weird semi-conscious place where "progress" after a piece of heavy-duty neurosurgery becomes a never ending cha-cha. One step forward, two steps back. Four steps forward, two steps back. The ones that survive manage to do that dance for an unspecified piece of time. The ones that don't, often have a devastating unexpected setback.

Well, that's exactly what happened. She had a re-bleed on Sunday. At that point, the damage was such that her neurosurgeon felt there was nothing to be gained. The family decided on comfort measures only, and she passed quietly Monday night.

Honestly, there was this part of me that expected either the cancer or the chemo to get her. But I did not expect a fall to get her. Nevertheless, it happened, and she's gone.

It is funny, how in our times of grief, the smallest unrelated thing can set us off. So let's just say this power outage had me more irked than usual. I didn't need Tri-County Electric to gang up on me, too. What made it incredibly more irksome was that I could see my nearest neighbor's house from the yard, and her power was on. I was just one farm away from "normal."

It took me a while to be able to sit still. So in one of my wanderings back to the house, I had just happened to look up to a surprise. My driveway, normally blanked out from the light of my dusk-to-dawn pole light, actually had a better view of the stars than my "sacred space in the yard." So I moved my reclining lawn chair to the driveway, and lounged there, lookng up.

To my surprise, the Milky Way was brilliant. I had read recently that one-fifth of all the people in the world has lost the ability to even SEE the Milky Way, because they live in a light-polluted area. I found myself being grateful for being able to see it at my house so many times. I kept looking up, in that way you do when you are watching for meteors.

Watching for meteors is a real trick. The problem is you can't see them if you look "at" anything in the sky. You become too focused, too fixated on a certain piece of sky, and in the dark, your brain becomes fixated on that spot, you become oblivious to anything going on outside of that spot. The struggle is to watch it all without directly looking "at" anything. It's your peripheral vision that is needed to see the fleeting glimpse of a meteor, not your focused vision.

The first ones I saw were very faint and very peripheral--little paint flakes in my periphery.

Suddenly, a big trail roared in across my central field of vision. The larger ones always seem, for some reason "closer to the ground." It seemed to almost graze my cottonwood tree. seemingly on a collision course with my pasture. "Spectacular" is a spectacularly dull way to describe it. It cut through the night sky with a confidence of its own. More meteors came; some big, some little. Like a good day fishing, you did not have to wait long for the next "bite."

Then, like one of those big, seemingly low flying meteors, something huge hit me.

I would never have seen this had the power not gone out.

It took an unexpected loss of something I expect to be there and constantly use without thinking one bit of the possibility of its absence, to spur me to sit in a place I normally expect to see nothing, to have the heavens open up to me and show me "what's really behind the nothing."

In a place where I normally see nothing, and never bother to sit still long enough to even entertain the possibility of anything more than blank space, was majesty beyond my comprehension. In short, I was given a short window to the kingdom of heaven.

As I sat there for a couple of hours, out of the corner of my eye I could see flickers of my house lights as the Tri-County repair crews started to do their thing, somewhere down my road, in a place I did not know. Before long, the lights would come on.

It suddenly dawned on me, that this spectacular moment was, indeed, temporary. In a matter of minutes to hours, I knew at some point, my dusk-to-dawn light was going to kick on for real, and the show, at least from this location, would be over. I found myself filled with longing that this moment would be over, and had to fight even harder not to look "at" anything, to not let my desperation to take over and ruin the peripheral vision I needed to see what few meteors I might have left before the power kicked back on.

Finally, my yard light buzzed and sputtered one final time, and the millions of stars in the Milky Way faded behind the purple-black curtain of "the way this part of my yard usually looks." Yet I knew that awesome view of Heaven was still back there. It had not left me. It was still here, only obscured from my frame of reference.

I sat a little longer, looking at the blankness of what moments ago had been beauty emerging from the darkness, sorrowful that I could no longer see it, but confident I knew it was still there.

When we lose old friends suddenly and unpredictably, we become enveloped in a blackness that we neither expect nor care to endure. We do not wish to sit still in it. We'd rather "do" to assuage our pain. We'd rather distract ourselves rather than sit back and "look without looking AT something." The light we took for granted quits shining, and we have no earthly clue if it will return.

But eventually, light shines again. The pageantry of what we saw in the darkness may be obscured, but we are forever changed, because now we know what lies behind what we once thought was only "blankness."


What a beautiful piece. I think this metaphor holds in many ways . . . that when we are relaxed and not trying too hard to see something, the insight comes.

I am sorry you lost a friend.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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