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As the door slams shut behind me, the blare of CNN is mercifully replaced by the chirping of crickets. A cool breeze dances across my face, apologising for the dried sweat stains on my shirt. It keeps me company as I gingerly make my way up the dark hill, one of the few among Illinois’ many cornfields. With a flick of my wrists, I unfurl the flannel blanket on grass still warm from the afternoon sun and not yet wet from the evening dew. Earbuds pop into my ears, and Mumford and Sons croons about light, love, and second chances.
Finally, I’m ready.
The Milky Way greets me like the old friends we’ve become on my family’s annual August escape from the city’s lights, noises, and smells. Even after 30 years, there’s nothing mundane about the twinkling of more galaxies than the mind can comprehend.
With every celestial body I recognise, the day’s preoccupations fall into the abyss.
Did I turn off the oven? Pegasus winks. Yes.
Do I need to lower my cholesterol? The Big Dipper looks set to soak Hercules. Probably, but not tonight.
Is a tick crawling up my leg? If I squint, I imagine I can see Jupiter’s red spot. No, I’m wearing jeans.
Would Grandpa, still incomprehensibly gone after two years, be proud of me?
Should I have taken the job in Washington?
Will I ever love again?
Not even Aquila, the eagle, can fly away with my deepest fears. But for now, the strumming of Lyra, the lyre, keeps the panic at bay.
Time loses meaning as my thoughts and eyes wander across the starry sky. My gaze just so happens to rest at the precise spot above the tree line where a pinprick of white-blue light bursts into being. As it grows and streaks halfway across the sky, I gasp in surprise, delight, and most of all, wonder at the billions of years and incalculable odds that brought me and the shooting star face to face in this moment. Absurdly, I know the ancient debris is a message for me and me alone. Tonight, it says, you don’t need answers.