The first thing I do in the back yard is look for Orion. Orion is the first constellation my father pointed out to me, the only constellation I can find in the night sky other than the Big and Little Dippers (and everyone can find those).
Dad did not point the constellation out to me until I was in my 30s (strange as that may seem). He showed me how to find Orion’s belt, and from there it became easy to find the star Betelgeuse, which he pronounced like Beetlejuice, and I thought that was cool since I really dug the movie of the same name starring Michael Keaton.
Henceforth, whenever I look at Orion, I think of my father.
Then it was overcast for a few days. No sign of Orion, or any stars for that matter.
This morning, I went out to meditate.
I looked to the East for Orion. Orion was not there.
As we are nearing the autumn solstice, the position of the stars with respect to my place on earth is in transition. As such, Orion appeared to have “moved” across the sky until now he was right above me. I leaned my lawn chair back so I could look straight up into the stars at my old friend--
Just then, a shooting star streaked through the night, cutting right across Orion.
If I had not been looking straight up at just that moment, I would have missed it.
“Good morning, Dad,” I said.
There was a girl in camp--let me call her Sarah for lack of remembering her name--and we became friends. I learned that Sarah was 17 and had gone to treatment for alcohol and drug addiction and was now one year clean and sober.
This was a few months before I began drinking myself, so the idea of Sarah was bewildering to me. Already, at 17, she had gotten into drugs and alcohol so deeply that she had to go to treatment. She had been sober a year at that point, which meant she got into treatment at 16, which meant she had started using at … my God, who knows?
Even if she’d only been using a year or two, that would mean she started at 14 or 15. When I was 14 or 15, I was more concerned with the next Star Wars movie, not drugs and alcohol.
One night, Sarah went out for a walk alone to pray. About half an hour later, she burst into the commons room of the camp’s main building, smiling and weeping. When we asked what happened, she told us a story …
It seemed that all the joy and unconditional love Sarah was feeling around camp was overwhelming to her. She did not feel she deserved to be among the rest of us. She erroneously believed we were too good for her. So she went out to be alone, to pray, to ask God if she really belonged. She asked God if He truly forgave her for her past drug use, and she asked if he would show her a sign that He heard her.
She looked into the sky … and saw a shooting star.
Now you understand why she was smiling and weeping.
As happy, spiritual teens gathered around Sarah to share in her miracle, one of the pastors came in. I was excited, so I went to the pastor to share the story. When I was finished, he said, “I hardly think that was a message from God. I saw in the paper that there are supposed to be meteor showers tonight. That’s all Sarah saw, I’m sure.”
Just like that, a pastor--a man of God--dismissed the miracle. Thankfully, only I heard it, and I don’t think he ever mentioned it to Sarah.
And who is to say that it was part of some great cosmic pattern that Sarah would find herself alone, looking at the stars and seeking comfort right when that meteoroid entered the earth’s atmosphere?
The atheist will call it coincidence. That makes sense too. I believe that everything has meaning in the world, but only to the degree that we bring meaning too it. Like the rule of quantum physics that implies matter changes according to how we look at it, an atheist will see just what he wants to see, just as the believer will see only what he wants to see.
It is like the scene in Zorro the Gay Blade where Zorro makes the mark of a Z on a peasant’s door and says, “Do you not know this symbol?” to which the peasant replies, “Oh, yes, that is the number two.”
Or, when teaching class, I would draw a cross on the board in two strokes, ask people what it meant, and after getting a number of spiritual answers, I would say (tongue in cheek, of course), “You’re all wrong. It’s a lower case t.”
Roger Ebert was once asked about the symbolism in movies. He replied that the symbol was only there if it meant something for you. The flying statue of Jesus at the beginning of La Dolce Vita can mean many things … or it can just be a statue being delivered to the Vatican via helicopter.
I choose to believe Sarah got an answer to her prayer all those years ago, and I choose to believe that this morning my father said hello from the other side. That is what Sarah and I brought to the experience, and that is what gives us comfort. If you choose to see it as coincidence--if you deny the presence of a spiritual realm and view the world through the eyes of cold, agnostic reason--then you will see a meteoroid entering the atmosphere, nothing more.
Whatever gives you comfort. As for me, my day is off to an excellent start.