Last year around this time… maybe it was actually in August, it was a HOT night is all I remember. My lady and I went to get some ice cream from the now defunct Emack & Bolio’s that was on 7th Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets.
We waited in line and picked our selections and as we exited, we saw the strangest site I’ve ever seen in Manhattan. No it wasn’t a homeless person doing #2 in a planter talking to a cop, though that’s up there and I’ve seen it. It was… a telescope, of all things.
Now living in this city there is one thing you do not get to see.
Every time I leave the city and am in a place that is not as built up and the skies aren’t so full of light pollution from NYC, I get to see the stars and I always make the time to stop and enjoy the sight of them. Even when I go to my parent’s house 45 miles outside of the city, you still see many stars, but the glow of NYC is still on the horizon obscuring many of them.
There only one time I remember seeing stars in this city… and that was the night of 9/11. That’s because the buildings all turned off their lights and it didn’t matter because no planes were flying. The only lights I could see that night from the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights was from the glow of the rubble burning and the flashing of the emergency vehicles.
I know I didn’t do any sort of 9/11 post but I haven’t been feeling 9/11y. Honestly the politicians have used it up already and I no longer want to hear or think about it, which is sad considering the things that I saw and experienced that day.
So imagine our surprise to see a man with a telescope pointed up into the glowy, blurry luminescence of the NYC sky.
“Can you actually see anything?” I asked the man.
“I’m looking at Saturn right now. Want to take a look?” he replied.
I didn’t expect to see much. He warned me to peer in and not touch anything lest the telescope move and we lose sight of it. As I went to look in I thought briefly of my old college room-mate John who volunteered at the University Observatory to refurbish the old telescope there and try to see distant things in the night. I thought of when I was little and visiting my Uncle in Washington D.C. with my Mom and my brother Matthew. It was one of the only nights of the year that it was open to the public and it was on the grounds of the Vice-Presidents Mansion as well, making it bigger and so very impressive to a young boy. I remember looking through the massive telescope that night and seeing the surface of the Moon as big and bright as if I was looking out my window at the building across the street. We could supposedly see sights of the various moon landings but had no idea what I was looking for and was too in awe to notice anyway.
When my eye reached the lens on this muggy NYC night I expected to see a mere pinpoint of light…
But there was so much more.
I could see the rings of Saturn. I could practically count them. I could see and count at least 4 moons in orbit around the huge planet. I could see colors and distance and another world I could never dream of touching.
There are moments that make you feel small in a good way. They remind you of your place in the world and how your worries about petty things are in fact just minor worries about petty things. In the cosmic scale they don’t even exist. These moments snap many things in your life back into perspective about what is good and right and worth caring about in life and this world.
I stepped away after only looking at it for a couple seconds but lifted my eye from that lens feeling different.
I let my Lady look next and as she was looking in, others came up and asked if there was anything to see and if they could look. A line soon formed and I was reminded of how much I love this city.
I used to look for that guy and his telescope every night that I would walk by that spot after that. I never saw him again but will always appreciate this man who, with a mere telescope, reminded me that even when we don’t think we will be able to see things, they are often there if you just bother to take the chance to look.