I recall many childhood experiences with the sky, but two particular ones stand out. The first happened as I was walking home one night with my parents, I could not have been more than four or five years old, and I kept pointing at the luminous harvest moon, surrounded by glittering stars. From across the street (these were cobbled, narrow streets I am referring to), a short grandmother rushed hastily over to my parents, scolding them that I should not be allowed to point at the moon, lest they risk ugly sores (bunions) all over my hands. She continued to explain something mystical to them for what seemed like a really long time, while I kicked up any dirt I could find with my head bowed in shame and confusion. Why would you not want to point at something so beautiful?Â
I was a slow learner, because after being gently remindedÂ to stop pointing at the night sky a fewÂ times by my parents, I still was in need of more reminders (hand slapped down to my side) until I stopped completely. The other experience was one that unfolded during my childhood from the stories I was told about heroes and Greek gods. The idea instilled was that not only animals could be represented in the stars, but gods and heroes too had a place. If you knew where to look, you could always find the heroes in the stars, forever a reminder of their names and deeds. I was inspired, to say the least, to be a hero. This was my first desired career. I knew this meant overcoming quite a few things that I did not possess, such as skill at pretend warfare, among others. I did not know much about heaven or the afterlife, but I knew that those who were truly great went right into the night sky, so I kept trying to perform grand deeds, sometimes to the horror and displeasure of my parents.
The stars were a wonder, instilling an insatiable curiosity, and as these things go, I produced many stories about them. For example, when explaining to my fellow first graders the reason for the stars’ flickering, I would say that the stars were tired. They did appear each night, after all, for many hours, and it was only fair that sometimes they did not remain ever vigilant in their vibrancy. They took breaks, going on and off, until they were no longer tired. No one inquired about what happened to them during the day, thankfully. (It is rather interesting how declaring an interest of something in elementary school meant you were an expert on the topic, a title that I did not wish to concede.) Now, I realize that this could have easily been confirmed or denied by asking an adult, but I must say that I tired even the most patient elders with my endless inquiries (but how exactly?), attacking them like I was on a quest to find the only true thing I needed, at the most inconvenient times. Without their aid, I continued creating tales about why Orion was sometimes further down the sky than the previousÂ month, and I kept a small diary of sorts with rudimentary drawings and positions. And when I learned about the planets, I felt a bit sad about them, floating alone without people on them. An easy explanation for this emotion is my age, eight, which easily evoked sadness for many things.
Mostly though, I started to rely on the constant appearance of the stars, an appointment they always kept, to learn more about them. How could I not stare in wonderment until my neck experienced shooting pains? These were achesÂ that I could not complain about since I had been previously (perhaps even sternly) notified that I would be stuck with a hunched back at an early age if I kept at it (or even worse, ruin a perfectly elongated neck). However, I did not listen, because these were the same stars (the very same!) that Alexander saw while conquering foreign lands in Asia. My father, a born storyteller, would entertain me as a child with stories of the gods and heroes, as I mentioned before, but he would also have stories about theÂ great figures of ancient history. And I would imagine a young Caesar staring at the stars at night and wondering if there was room for him among them. The idea that such a similitude could be shared with the past made the stars even more important for me. I had something in common with great men, perhaps one of few things we could share, and they too had looked at these same stars just I was.
As a faithful reader of Astronomy throughout my childhood and well into my teenage years, it seems odd that I suddenly stopped asking my parents for the monthly magazine from Riders Hobby. Perhaps I realized that the night sky had become too complicated, and yet not particularly understood at the same time. There was much guessing about what and how everything formed, sometimes not far from my own tales. The admirationÂ I held for the night skyÂ had started with the notionÂ that it was there, as simplistic as it seems now. Among all the changes that occurred around me: familiar buildings being torn down, and new ones emerging at rapid speeds, people leaving for America, and yet others leaving this world, the stars remained my companions. No matter what happened here on Earth, the stars were beyond reach, and I liked this separation. Although they were outside our physical grasp, and would continue being so for as long as I would be alive, I could take solace in the fact that we (and all who came before) were equals when looking (not pointing) at the night sky: the moon, planets, and stars.