8:15 p.m. I’m starring at Orion the Hunter from the driveway thinking about my observing buddy who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told him that if treatments and surgery go well, he might live for several years.
I can’t imagine being given a deadline on my life, though I suppose we all live under one. Only difference is some of us know it and the rest of us pretend it’s not there. We always live as if.
My friend’s a positive person with an easy sense of humor and passion for astronomy. You’ll find him out on the coldest nights, star chart and red flashlight in hand, mapping a route to a new galaxy or star cluster he’s never seen before.
In the middle of his new reality, he decided to set goals. One of his first is to do additional public outreach astronomy, to bring his telescope to more places to share his love of the sky with more people. Next, he wants to travel to the southern hemisphere to finally see the stars forever blocked from view by his southern horizon.
His courage and optimism in the face of a grim prognosis filled me with positive emotion. It may even have been the reason I stayed out in the cold last night as long as I did.
As Orion tipped to the west, I thought about my own bucket list. For me it would be to return to the southern hemisphere and set up a big scope somewhere in the deserts of Australia to explore the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
I’d also like to see the planets at high magnification from southern Florida, where atmospheric turbulence is at a minimum and images are rock solid. Canoeing in moonlight (as often as possible), enjoying a total solar eclipse without a camera and spending lots more time showing school-age children the moon and planets with my telescope. These top my list.
Funny hobby this astronomy. The long-lived stars and their unfathomable distances constantly remind us of the brevity of our lives, though we often don’t pay attention. We’re only human after all; it takes work to always be aware of how sweet life is. For some, that sweetness is made purer by knowledge of life’s end.
Like the stars, my friend helped me appreciate this ever-so-short dance in the light.