The Lure of Possibility

I stand silently in the cool, crisp air. Around me, the houses cast off a sullen light in the covering darkness. I slowly walk forward, my thundering footsteps the only disturbance in an otherwise quiet night. Inside the house, the television blares on with soap operas. The moon is rising, emitting a faint light as it appears over the horizon. The stars are clearly visible, tiny jewels of light studded in the black quilt of the night sky. I look to the stars, and my mind wanders.

A majesty is evident in the quiet brilliance of these points of light. I lose myself in their shine. Out there are wonders. Millions of balls of gas, planets and even black holes exist up beyond the black veil of night. Hundreds of galaxies swirl gracefully out in the vast emptiness of space. The universe, with all its mysteries, looms just beyond the horizon.

I had read about space when I was in 2nd grade, spending many evenings sprawled on my bed, devouring books by Isaac Asimov on asteroids, comets, stars, planets and black holes. These heavenly objects represented the unknown and their enticingly mysterious names – Enceladus, Andromeda, Io – called to me. As a high school student, I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and watched a Nova series on string theory on the Internet to get a better idea of how our universe works.

Something about the heavens draws me in. A hint of something exotic, beyond the mundane interactions of daily life. Up there, stars with so much gravity that not even light could escape twisted the fabric of the universe, quasars blew out large bursts of radio waves and dark energy stretched the universe’s boundaries. Scientists could explain neither how the universe began nor how the universe was going to end. Up beyond the black veil of night, something remains out of reach of human knowledge, wafting a scent of mysteries unsolved.

When I learned that we were going to cover space in school, I became thrilled at the prospect of discovering the universe’s secrets. I fervently hoped that the teacher would tell me about the Big Bang and black holes in detail. However, I was bitterly disappointed. The teacher glossed over black holes, instead focusing on teaching the names of the planets and moon phases, in the order that they both occurred. The universe, with all its mysteries and complexity, was condensed to 16 easy to remember words. Class focused more on the sparse words inside the McDougall-Little textbook than on the universe that lay outside, beckoning to us to view its wonders.

Yet, I cannot stay out forever. Already, I can hear them. The soft, insistent lisp of my opened textbook. The accusing hum of my computer. The grim tramp of duties coming to drag me away from my galaxies and dark matter. My heavy sigh tumbles into the night air; many days could pass before I could escape their grasp to come out again. With one last longing glance, I plod towards the door. As the door clicks behind me, I return to the comfortable, mundane sounds of television soap operas and clanging spoons in the sink.

Behind me, the stars smile mysteriously behind their black veil.

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