06 April 2007

Star gazing with Mr. Wayne...

A few months ago, I found myself in a second hand CD store outside of Washington DC looking for something interesting to satisfy my musical cravings. After finding something with Etta James on it, I went to the register to pay up. While waiting for the heavily tattooed cashier to ring me up, I noticed a box with Bushnell 10 x 50 binoculars in it and a $5.00 price tag. I asked if $5.00 was right and the guy behind the counter said, "Yeah." I checked them out and they were an older model, but practically unused. I knew $5.00 was a steal for these, so I got them. The cashier said some guy brought them in and wanted to trade them for a CD and nobody knew how much they were worth. I knew they were worth at least $50 so I made out pretty well.

From an astronomy class I took a few years ago, I knew that 10 x 50 binoculars were nice for star gazing, so I was looking forward to checking out the heavens. It amazes me that you can look at the night sky with a naked eye and see hundreds and hundreds of stars, but with just an inexpensive set of hand held binoculars you can see thousands more that are just outside of our naked eye range.

A few nights ago, I went outside with my binoculars and leaned against my truck and began combing the sky for star clusters my naked eye missed. I stared a long time at Rigel and Sirius, the two easiest stars to find in the sky after the trio that comprises Orion's belt. I like Sirius because of all that I have heard about the Dogon tribe in Africa and their amazing knowledge of this star.

After a few minutes, I lowered my binoculars and just stared up into the sky - lost in its vastness. I guess 10 minutes had passed before Mr. Wayne came to mind and after 20 years, the quiet man who was the neighborhood enigma when I was growing up had suddenly had the answer to it all.

Let me push back the clock a little to the mid-80's in east Baltimore. One of my buddies had a step-dad named Mr. Wayne. Mr. Wayne was a modest man, very quiet and very polite. The thing that made him stand out to all of us neighborhood kids was the fact that whenever the night sky was fairly clear, Mr. Wayne would lean against his car and just stare at the stars for hours and hours and hours. Some of the knuckleheads would crack stupid jokes, and call him crazy and call him names and tease his kids. But, for those of us who were close to his children, we were told that 'something' had happened to him in Vietnam. I never really knew for sure, what had happened and I don't think his kids knew either - but we knew that it was probably something horrible and he should never be disrespected for it.

But, I always wondered, "What was so important about looking at the night sky?"
  • Did the stars guide him away from a life threatening situation?
  • Was he tortured under a night sky?
  • Was he held captive and all he could see where the stars?

I'll never know. I haven't seen Mr. Wayne in 18 years and I have no idea where he or is family are now.

However, while I was standing in front of my house looking up into all that God created - I felt small. I felt downright tiny. I felt like a single little molecule in a universe that was as it was supposed to be. I felt like at that very moment, I was doing what I was supposed to be doing among the grass, and the trees, and the wind, and the earth and the galaxy and the universe.

When we look into a dark sky and see star light, we are looking back over time. The light we see at any given time was generated millions of years ago and is just reaching us now. Some of the stars we see shining bright every evening are no longer even in existence - having burnt out and collapsed while dinosaurs ruled our planet. The universe is vast, it is magnificent, it is humbling. And therein lies what I believe Mr. Wayne understood. I think that whatever happened to him during the war left him scarred inside and I think that part of him needed to find perspective in the madness of war, or the madness of the world. I think that when he looked up at the stars, he could put the past in the past and he could find comfort that he was now among the grass and the trees and the wind and the earth and the galaxy and the universe.

I think the stars made his universe as it should be.



fringes said...

Very nice post and use of language. Followed your here from a link at Charming Driver. Is there a real reason that your font is colored red?

The Thinking Black Man said...

Hello there FRINGES!

Welcome to my blog! I appreciate the comment.

Red? Hmmm, I wish I had a clever answer but I don't. I tend to float between red, blue, purple and dark green. Boring, huh?

fringes said...

Sometimes when people are posting from their email programs or a BlackBerry or some other remote feature, it changes the font color. I was only curious. It's not boring at all. A little hard to read, maybe, but not boring. Thanks for responding in comments. Very cool.

mark said...

Yo TBM good post, I first heard of the dogon people from a lecture with the great Ivan Van Sertima on.

The story of the knowledge of the dogon is one of the things that gives me hope for a better world and in the potential of human biengs. As bad as this mess is going on in the world if we are willing to put our minds together we can figure a way out of this mess. Good post TBM

Young Miss Williams said...

I can't remember the last time I was met with a blanket of stars when looking up at the sky... London is too polluted! :P

x mwah x

B. Good said...

I used to know all about the constellations, but alas, that knowledge was pushed out my brain as *other* information replaced it (useless, I'm sure). I'm tempted to pick up a pair of binoculars (or 2), so I can stargaze with or without company. This universe is truly amazing and incredibly fascinating. Thanks for sharing this with us!

CreoleInDC said...

I think that's exactly how we should feel when we look up at the sky. Minute and yet absolute. We should know that we are but only yay high on the scale of all things so we may recognize the need to be humble.

I do it often and am not surprised you do as well. From where I'm laying on the sofa in my family room now...I see the sky. The room is dark save for my puter...and life is exactly as it should be...at least for me.

Love to you and your family!

The Thinking Black Man said...

Hey there MARK.

I agree 100%. The Dogon's and their AMAZING centuries old knowledge of Sirius B, long before anyone with a telescope had seen it, gives me hope that there is far more out there than what what we see here.

Isn't it "peculiar" how mainstream media almost hardly acknowledges their knowledge?


So London is really that polluted? I'm shocked and sorry to hear that. I usually have to contest with the ambient light in the sky from buildings and cars, but the view is still fairly nice.

Here's wishing for clearer skies over Old London.

Hello B. GOOD! I love my 10x50 binoculars. I'm probably going to see if I can snatch a better pair on Ebay.

My brother has this REALLY REALLY REALLY nice telescope with about an inch of dust on it. Everytime I mention it to him he's always like, "Oh, yeah - I'm gonna' start using it next week..." I think it's just too sophisticated for him and he desn't want to ask for help. Oh well.

Hey CREOLEINDC - what's up to my Cooooooool Sister?!?!

"Minute and yet absolute"

Simply - perfectly, said.

jameil1922 said...

and maybe when he was over there, he could look up at the sky and know that whoever he left back over here could see the same thing he was seeing.

Anali said...

I love this post!! I love looking at the sky too. Remember a few years ago when Mars was closest to the earth than it had been in our lifetimes? I remember that 4th of July looking up at the fireworks and thinking about Mars...

Heavenly Zeta said...

What a awe inspiring post! I often find myself looking up at the night sky...since I live in the city it's a bit more difficult to see the stars. But if I go a few miles up the road, I will reach a park that I can sit at and star gaze to my heart's content. I especially like looking up at the moon...it gives me a sense of peace and calm.

The Thinking Black Man said...

Hello JAMEIL1922!

That's a deep point. Sharing the night sky with the ones back home.

That's very deep. I really wish I could ask him.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Hi there ANALI.

Oh yes, I remember when MARS was very close to us. That was pretty exciting. Wasn't that when NASA deployed the two little rovers? Those things are absolutely amazing. I think NASA thought they'd last three of four months and if I remember correctly - they've been sending back images for over THREE YEARS NOW!

Hello HEAVENLY ZETA. Thank you so much for that compliment! I too am sometimes victimized by the glow of city lights when I'm trying to enjoy the sky. Every once in awhile I find myself in the very rural areas of Maryland and Virginia with few lights for miles and miles and it is like... well... night and day. It's incredible how clear things look, the moon, the stars, the constellations. Amazing! Peaceful! Humbling!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this post.

I lost my sight as a teenager. One of my greatest memories of sight is the night sky. The stars in the sky were absolutely captivating.

I grew up in Houston, but would get the opportunity to travel to rual Louisiana a few times a year. The stars that decorated the sky in Louisiana were breathtaking. Even though it was the same sky that draped over Houston, the number of stars that were visible in the sky in Louisiana seemed to be a million times more.

Again, I loved this post. It's so funny. I just wrote an entry about the stars a day or so ago on my blog. My entry is not written as beautiful as yours, but feel free to check it out.