Many years ago I had been surveying petroglyphs and shrine sites in Arizona’s high desert. Miles from anywhere I made a hasty camp for the night. I cleared a spot for my sleeping bag and settled in for the evening. I was tired, dirty and had to remove two stubborn ticks from my legs.
There wasn’t enough wood to make a fire so I ate a cold dinner fantasizing about hot coffee and a long bath.
I grew up in northeast Ohio, a part of the country where cloudy days are the norm. We would endure weeks without seeing the sun through a gray haze of drizzling clouds. The air was usually thick with humidity and the night bathed in the foggy glare of city lights. The moon, Venus and a handful of the bolder stars pierced the sky, but often there was little else.
The high desert was different. The thin, dry air let the heavens shine boldly over the open land.
As I cleaned my dishes the stars opened their eyes, winking and shining in the unrolling blanket of night.
It had been a long day. I’d covered miles of rough ground through hard country. I watched the night sweep into the moonless sky as I laid on my bedroll, my pack a rough pillow.
Fatigue set upon me, heavy and dull. I closed my eyes letting my mind drift, wandering from work, tasks and deadlines waiting, to dreams of distant places, foreign voices, spicy perfume and the taste of summer skin.
I must have fallen asleep for a time. When I opened my eyes again, the neon universe lay before me. The Milky Way spanned the arch of night, a river of countless, shimmering stars. The effect was so intense that a moment of vertigo had my head swimming in the celestial sea.
It felt as if my mind could glide, dive and turn through the eternal depths, racing around blue and red and yellow suns. Exhilaration filled me with every breath and my fatigue faded like the evening light.
A single falling star painted the darkness with a silent, masterful stroke of light. Then was gone.
I wondered about that tiny bit of the cosmos, falling and ending before my eyes. How far had it traveled? How many eons had it known like falling leaves? That bit of sand may have seen the birth of the sun, the formations of the planets and every age of this world, mere moments passing.
I was falling so much faster.
My life would only span a grain of time, a flash in the eternal darkness. Then, like that fallen grain of unearthly sand, I would be gone.
Suddenly my mortality seemed to reach up from the earth and hold me to the ground with cold, dark hands. It was so achingly beautiful out there, wondrous and eternal, while I was distant and earthbound, living out my little life in the dirt with the ticks.
I was small and inconsequential before the blazing wonder of the desert sky.
Melancholy and self-pity whined and moaned in my heart as I kept watching the sky, brooding.
Then another streak of burning sand.
“I saw you and I’ll remember,” I said aloud, feeling a sudden kinship to the fallen.
“Kinship, kinship – that was right,” I said to myself. My life would be short, but I had been thinking about it all wrong. Like the falling stars, I was a child of the cosmos. I was part of it and it a part of me. My blaze of life would become part of something greater.
Like the falling star, all that I was had taken over 13 billion years to come to that place, to burn bright for a moment unique in the darkness. The iron and oxygen coursing through my veins were the inheritance of elder stars bequeathed in fierce and fiery cataclysms.
Vital elements and energy blow through space like the breath of God. Life and mind, as natural as the moon and the uncountable stars, stir before that breath.
Like clouds or rivers running their course, life flourishes until minds flower across the bright, pinwheel seas of the cosmos.
Awakening from a trillion worlds, untold beings perceive and create, stretching, enriching and awakening the whole, bringing beauty and purpose. All of us, from the smallest living things to the totality spanning the universe are symphonies of parts, complete and components of greater things, greater minds and greater beings.
Something marvelous, beautiful and real was rising from the cradle of stars. Our lives are the spreading fire of a magnificent awakening. The role we play in this is essential.
All value, all beauty, all good is the product of thinking, feeling, creating beings. Without us, reality is meaningless, worthless and dead. We are the hearts and minds of the awakening universe.
Falling stars inspiring wonder and contemplation – their beautiful burning gives birth to greater things.
My sadness drifted away, small and forgotten. In its place a profound calm, a sense of serenity formed in my heart, fixed and crystal bright as the sky above me.
I was home. Home in this desert, this life, this world and I was home in the luminous living universe spanning the sky before me.
I was home.