A Galaxy of Stars


I was staying with my parents at the top of a hill, way out in the country. In the course of one evening my stepfather went outside to smoke his pipe, but came back in and said in a half-whisper,

“Come and see the Milky Way.”

At first I thought it was one of his usual playful pranks, though I could not imagine where this one was leading. He bundled me into a coat he was not using and the three of us went out. Mum and I leant back on the boot of the car. At first it just looked very dark with a few stars winking here and there, but then as our eyes adjusted the scene was breathtaking. As a dyed in the wool townie I rarely ever see more than about one star at a time.

The longer we looked, the brighter the sky became, until it seemed that there was even more light than darkness. To me this was symbolic. I felt so relieved that all this light is out there, even at night. I have never before seen this much of the universe! Before our very eyes the Milky Way stretched out above our heads as some huge celestial bridge. All around the lights just kept appearing like candles kindled in the vaults of some unending, unearthly cathedral.

What I found so strange was the silence. How can such splendour and magnitude not create a single sound? Then I pondered that as I did not have the eyes with which to see it all when I first stepped out, I just do not yet have the ears with which to hear its music. I imagined it would sound like Sri Chinmoy’s spontaneous pipe organ music. To me no other sound could be spectacularly powerful and profound enough to describe such a scene.

Then along came my mind to break the silence. Any significance I ever thought I had was blown away like a dry leaf in a storm.

“This is a very small rock we are standing on.” it seemed to say in a cold, piercing voice.

“You think the earth is big, but look how tiny it is! What’s more, compared to the earth, look how tiny you are!”

“Mum,” I said, “we’re very small aren’t we?”

“Yes,” she responded in a softly satisfied voice.

She was obviously looking at the same facts from a different perspective. I realised it was all far too much to expect the poor mind to understand. I looked again. Instead of separating “me” from everything else, I claimed it all with my heart. Suddenly I was no longer pitifully small, but infinitely vast. Yes, it is infinitely vast, and I am part of it, so therefore I am also vastness. Of course, how could I forget? I felt full and satisfied, and a big smile seemed to take over my whole being.

After a few more minutes of blissful silence, Mum reminded me that the light we are seeing from the stars is often thousands of years old. In other words, the stars are thousands of light-years away, so the light takes thousands of years to get here. Which means that there is probably light out there from newer stars hurtling through the universe to greet us. What a thought! Light so new we cannot even see it yet. Luckily I was safely tucked away in my heart when this one came, and the feeling gave me boundless joy.

Sumangali Morhall
September 2004

To Sleep - a poem about the night sky

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