When I was a Child…
When I was little I swore to myself that I would not be one of those grown-ups who told children “When I was a child, I walked 10 miles back and forth to school every day in all weather– blizzards and ice storms, and I carried 15 pounds of books on my back and I took care of my eight little sisters and brothers and such and such and such and such.” But here I am, not telling it to my grandchildren, but worse, writing it in a blog post. My excuse? I feel almost an obligation to tell young people what they are missing and point the finger at the cause. There seems to have been a fundamental shift in reality as we know it. Maybe every generation feels this and that is why there are these older people going around saying: “When I was a child…”
When I was a child, I remember autumns so brisk you could feel the frost on your cheeks in October rather than a sun beating down 80 degrees in “unseasonably warm” weeks of extended summer. I remember Thanksgivings so cold the grown-ups drank hot toddies at the Thanksgiving Day parade and we children would go home with frozen fingers and red cheeks and warm by the fire before the grand feast began. It was never 70 degrees in November or God forbid in December!! And I remember ice skating on a frozen pond in January and going home with toes so frozen they hurt when you put them near the radiator to warm up. And swollen red fingers. But the hurt felt good and the fresh air felt good and the icy cheeks felt good, for you knew you were really alive, with a keen mind and an invigoration that rivaled any cup of Frapaccino from Starbucks. And I remember springs so cool you needed to have a spring coat or jacket. Winter did not just stop one day and summer begin the next with 90 degree days in April. My memories are precious and the young today may never know such memories in great thanks to Global Warming. Now it is approaching normal to have 70 degrees in November and 90 degrees in April.
And most of all when I was little I remember looking at the night sky and seeing a phantasmagoram of stars. Some readers may remember 50 years ago looking up at the Sputnik passing overhead and they may recall the stars seeming brighter then. They were. Today thanks to light pollution we see “less than one per cent of what Galileo would have been able to see without a telescope” as David Owen writes in his recent article The Dark Side. This light pollution is called “sky glow” and basically it means that because of air pollution the atmosphere is more reflective rather than being transparent making it harder to see the stars.
Of course this brings up the outrage and perils of air pollution which clouds the skies night and day!!!
On top of that so much illumination from the earth has faded the stars above thanks to things called “glare bombs” which are light fixtures that spread light sideways right into our eyes. Owen explains that the “eye adapts to the brightest thing in sight… when you have glare, the eye adapts to the glare, but then you can’t see anything darker.” It has to do with the rods and cones in our eyes. Rods are what allow us to see at night and cones give us color vision. The rods are very sensitive and can take an hour to readjust to the dark after being exposed to a light. The brighter the light, the longer it takes to adjust. So we are making it harder to see with these bright light packs that Owen points out make it easier for crime to occur because it is harder for people to see in the dark areas. This is why deer, who have superior night vision due to a greater concentration of rods, are blinded by headlights of cars. It has nothing to do with their intelligence and again, like all of this, plenty to do with man’s so called “progress.” And these light packs are so bright, Owen reckons they could probably be seen from earth with a hobbyist’s telescope if they were put on the moon. He points out that in a “truly dark sky” one can see more shooting stars than one can count. I have never seen a shooting star. My husband saw one as a child in camp in Wisconsin.
“I need a place where I can see the stars,” my husband said when we decided to buy our renovated barn in Stanfordville. And when we gaze at the night sky it sometimes takes our breath away and indeed on some nights we just stand outside gazing upwards speechless. It is the “awe” factor and seeing ourselves within the perspective of the infinite. But in the 5 years we have been here, the sky has become brighter and the stars harder to see. Poughkeepsie is a bright glow on the horizon and just a few weeks ago some sort of electrical transformer was installed on our road with a piercing green light maybe one inch in diameter that illumines the road and the whole front of our house at night. My husband calls it “the green eye of Mordor.” This light makes star gazing more difficult.
I mourn the frosty falls, the cold winters, the cool springs and the brilliant night sky. But at least people of my generation have their memories. The young people of today have been short-changed by my generation who have squandered nature. The youth of today have grown up deprived of some of the most brilliant shows of natural beauty and variety in climate. Global warming and pollution are the criminals here. They have robbed today’s children of some of life’s greatest treasures– treasures that turn into warm memories, themselves treasures, of “When I was a child…”
Welcome to samples of my writing showcasing “Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things.” “Eye-locks” is a Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir in narrative form that describes the triumph of love over mental illness.
In this month of darkness, in this the darkest month, the light of the human spirit shines forth in so many– in so many ways. As the days grow shorter, houses and trees are decorated, and snow falls. In the hushed silence of the nights, lights shine in windows, and whisper in the darkness. For this season of giving brings the festivals of lights: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and in the Fall, Diwali. Each tradition incorporates light in its ceremonies and decorations.
A neighbor-friend of mine who lives down the road, a donkey in his stable, reminds me of the story of another manger two thousand years ago. And seeing him snug in his stable with snow on the ground gives the illusion that all is right in the world. But all is not well. Far, far too many know no peace in any season. Far, far too many live in poverty. Far, far too many suffer the effects of the new mammoth storms.
We who live closer to the land are so blessed to share our lives with animals. These creatures are constant reminders of humility and simplicity in this rapid, complex, multi-tasking world. We drive around on a December night and see houses covered in lights with illuminated trees, houses warmed by fires, and imagine them filled with laughter and conversation and love. We are blessed to have so much, when so many have so little. Blessed to be able to celebrate our religious beliefs as we wish, when others cannot. Yet even in the worst of conditions the strength of the human spirit is indomitable.
In December’s darkness we light lights. In truth, we are beings of light. A light glows within each one of us. And, at the most basic level, we are beings of light for we are made of stardust. Perhaps that is why the stars hold such majesty for us—stars compose our bodies within, and, without, our skies sing with stars the hymns of the Heavens.
Einstein said: “A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe”– a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest– a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” We are all cut from the same cloth and our inner light is one.
And in this holiday season we behold the night sky as shepherds did two thousand years ago on the birth of the holy infant, in a stable. That night a star lit the whole sky to guide the shepherds. And, in 165 BCE, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was re-dedicated and with the miracle of the ritual oil, the light burned for eight nights.
On these deep, long, silent nights as we light our houses, our candles, our Menorahs, our trees, let us look inside ourselves and find the glow that unites us and will guide us to the Everlasting Light.