Sunday, September 03, 2006

Falling to Eternity

There was no preamble to the miracle, unless you count the thunderstorm that had marked the horizon, earlier. It was a beautiful storm full of thick, crooked, violet fingers. Perhaps it was a prelude, which would be right. If the sequence were reversed, it could only have been an anti-climax.

It was near to nine o'clock and I was outside. On a normal night I would have been inside, reading or watching television. I'm not sure what brought me out there. There was no sense of anticipation or foreboding, and none of my neighbors were out there with me. I just wanted to be alone under the sky. To have the feel of an early October sky on my face.

It was a moonless night and the stars seemed brighter than usual. It was as though every light in town has been dimmed or extinguished. It was like the stars that one can only ever see out in the country. I could see them very clearly, indeed, when they started to move.

I didn't jump or flinch or curse or, to best of my memory, say or do anything at all. I just watched.

The constellations were instantly distorted out of all recognition as parallax briefly revealed their true depths. All the familiar stars disappeared over the horizon in a matter of seconds as new stars streamed into and out of view in a continuous sequence that seemed, to me, to resemble a swarm of fireflies caught in a wind.

Some part of me wondered if the sun, too, had become unmoored from the sky. Was the entire solar system being carried across the universe, or was this a journey solitary to the Earth? Did even the moon accompany us? I looked for the planets but I couldn't discern any still, bright points in that flowing panorama. Perhaps they were below the horizon. Perhaps they were light years away. Perhaps I was simply too distracted and amazed to find them.

Suddenly the stars disappeared from the east and coalesced to the west. To my vast wonder I could see the entire galaxy, huge and edge on. Dust clouds riddled the vast central bar and the core was gigantic and so luminous I could see distinct shadows on the ground. Globular clusters hovered around the core like angels waiting in attendance to God Himself. I had seen many pictures of galaxies and have been to my share of planetarium presentations, but nothing could compare to the sight of our galaxy taking up a third of the sky. Some part of me wondered if it could possibly be this bright at this distance but, in the face of the impossible, one doesn't worry too much about the details.

By and by the Milky Way itself receded into the distance as other galaxies crawled, walked, and then sprinted across the heaven's vault. Most were tiny blobs: spiral, elliptical and occasionally irregular. Others would briefly loom over the entire sky, turning it blue with their brightness. Some we plunged straight through. And still we traveled, and still we accelerated.

I wondered about the physics of it. I didn't see an evidence of Doppler shift or Relativistic foreshortening. The atmosphere didn't glow with Cherenkov radiation. I wasn't being baked by hard gamma radiation or a superluminal flux of cosmic particles. I didn't feel the least tug of acceleration. Perhaps we were exempt from the rules. That seemed to make the most sense.

I wondered how many people confined themselves to watching this marvel on TV. I wondered when it would end. I wondered if it would end. I wondered if this was, in fact, the End that we've been imagining since the beginning of days. If so, I could think of worse eschatons.

Faster and further. Deeper and farther. Falling to eternity.

By and by I fell asleep, out on the grass, under that transcendent sky. I wouldn't have thought it possible but, even in the face of miracles, the mind becomes overwhelmed and the body demands its rest. By the time I had woken up, we had arrived.

Now we are here, and happy.

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