The Milky Way

(crossposted from Facebook)

When I was 20 or so, I saw a time-lapse video of a barbecue in Texas on YouTube. About halfway through, the Milky Way starts casually making its way across the sky. I was flabbergasted because I had never seen the Milky Way before in my life, and I thought you needed a telescope or something.

And then I realized: if the Greeks were able to name the Milky Way, it must’ve been visible to the naked eye for most of human history, and it was visible wherever this barbecue was in Texas. And the reason I had never seen it was because I had never been somewhere with low enough levels of light pollution.

When I realized this, I felt… well. Imagine being a character in a dystopian YA novel where they all live underground because of some terrible disaster. Somewhere, you’ve heard some rumors about this thing called “the Sun,” but it never seemed very interesting or important. And then one day someone smuggles a video to you. And you hit play. And you see something. And it’s bright. And it’s beautiful. And this whole time you didn’t know.

I felt a little bit like that. It was like part of my birthright as a human being had been taken from me.

(The last time I told this story, Brent Dill immediately responded, “are you free next weekend?” and drove me to Tahoe to see it. Bless his heart.)

● ● ●

This is the question that haunts me: what else is missing?

If there was something else beautiful, some other part of my human heritage, that was missing… how would I know? And what would I need to do to get it back?

I think about this question a lot. I have some ideas. Maybe you do too?

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