Tonight, if you can find a place without too many streetlights and the sky is fairly clear, look up in the northeast and take note of the largest shining object you can see. What you see is a planet: Venus, an extremely reliable point of light in the sky.
Usually when I point out a planet to someone, they’re skeptical. No one expects that I am the kind of person able to spot planets, yet spotting planets is one of my strong suits. Planets are flat bright disks that do not twinkle. That pretty much sums up everything I know about astronomy, and despite my lack of knowledge in astronomy, my planet identification average is still pretty high.
People understand that planets are out there in theory, but in reality, they figure that they, ordinary humans, must need high-powered telescopes or other implements to see them. They can’t believe that by gazing up in the sky they can see something so primordial. Just looking up for the absence of twinkling is far too simple. But it isn’t.
I get it. The idea of planets is baffling. It’s easier to believe in evolution. For much of my life my idea of planets consisted of Styrofoam balls attached to popsicle sticks to other Styrofoam balls in a Styrofoam solar system created for a sixth grade science project.
Given that, when I first pointed out Venus to my husband Jimmy, he was understandably dubious. But now if we’re outside at night under clear skies and I don’t point out the bright shining object above us, Jimmy becomes concerned and will ask me what’s wrong. I think he worries that the most Lori part about me has disappeared. It’s my nature to race to the next moment, to force something to happen or to not happen. But the instant I notice that looming planet, an object light years away and yet so visible in my here and now, I surrender to the present moment and it is exhilarating.
The first time I ever saw a planet was in Wyoming in the wintertime. I was with my first husband, Barry. A tour guide pointed out three large flat unflickering disks among the speckle of stars. Venus. Jupiter. Saturn. We were stunned something so extraordinary was so accessible. Barry died a few years later and yet when I look up and see something in the sky that existed long before us that will shine on long after we’re gone, it connects me to him. Apparently, there is some order in this universe and I find that reassuring at a chromosomal level.
No matter what happens Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter are completely unaffected by the struggles of us humans over the course of millennia.
Some people have faith in a supreme being or a spiritual belief that brings them comfort in bleak and hopeless times. I have my own ways— listening to the sound of rain on the roof or the voice of Paul McCartney as he sings “Let it Be” or just looking up in the night sky and believing what I see with my own eyes. In that instant, I am connected to something enormous and eternal, to the gape of the ancient and to the unknown forever that holds me, us all, together.