From Earth, it seems that the direct rays of the sun have moved as far north as they are going to go. Today is the day the sun takes a short breath at the Tropic of Cancer before traveling south to the Equator and eventually the Winter Solstice next December at the Tropic of Capricorn.
I am a full-fledged seasonal nerd. I adore the change of the season I and get excited by the lunar cycle. I have a caveman understanding of the cycles and appreciation of celestial bodies.
I think humans have come up with some great days to celebrate and remember. Whether governmental, religious, or miscellaneous, I believe we should celebrate any chance that we are given. From Labor Day to Easter to Arbor Day, these human-concocted days of celebration give us a chance to break from routine and take notice of the world we are walking around on.
However, days like today are my real holidays. Our religion, language, customs and culture have nothing at all to do with today. Today is bigger than any concept we can try to articulate because it is an event which preceded us and will likely outlive us. There may have been 64 million days like today between the Age of the Dinosaurs and the Age of the iPhones, but that doesn’t make it any less special when it happens this year.
When Venus passed in front of the Sun recently we were given one final opportunity to see a stellar occlusion in our lifetimes. The next chance to see that transit that will be in the year 2117. I will not see it. My kids and grandkids might, but they will be over 100 years old and by that time they will probably have robot bodies with laser cannons mounted on their shoulders for defending our dimension against an invading race of time traveling ants. Don’t think so? I guess we’ll just wait and SEE who is right (me) and who is wrong (people who disagree with me).
I don’t know what you were doing in 1986, but I was busy being a 14-year-old high school freshman, strutting around in my flowered jams and my Miami Vice style shirts. It isn’t easy to strut when people are calling you Twinkie and knocking books out of your arms, but I did a pretty good job with it. When I wasn’t being Mr. Cool at school, I was at home being very excited about Halley’s Comet that was about to make a rare appearance in the night’s sky.
Halley’s Comet swings by for a visit every 75ish years. These visits can be traced back through history in 75 year increments because it always makes a big appearance in the media of the day: movies, newsreels, newspapers, plays, operas, oil paintings, cave paintings and stories. In 1986, the prominent media format at the time was turquoise t-shirts. Obviously, I had one with a picture of the comet and the dates it would be visible.
When I finally got to see the overly anticipated celestial event, I was disappointed. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the blurry grey smudge in the sky was not what the picture on the t-shirt looked like at all. I stood in my backyard, in the middle of the woods without a man-made light for miles. I had a cheapo pair of binoculars and an extra cheapo telescope, and neither of them brought the comet into focus enough for me to feel that the hype lived up to the reality.
Back then, I was thin and healthy and held the belief that I would live to be 1001. In case you have forgotten, high school freshman are bulletproof and many can fly. A mere 75 years in the life of an immortal is inconsequential. At the time I thought that I’d just have to wait for the next appearance of Halley’s and hope that it is more impressive. However, as the years went by and the pounds packed on, my realistic life expectancy adjusted to match my level of health, and it became less and less likely that I’d see the return of the Smurfs, much less the return of Halley’s Comet.
Thanks to eight months of restoring health and regaining longevity, I am now feeling more and more hopeful that I will get a chance to see this celestial event when it returns in 2061. I will be an 89-year-old man with the biggest ears and nose you have ever seen. I know that it will take many more years of healing and decades of maintenance, but I think that is a very small price to pay to get to see a “Once in a Lifetime Event” for a second time.
I try to avoid looking too far in the future and instead focus on the present. Halley’s will be there in 50 years whether I am or not, so today that means soaking up summer, watermelon, sweaty walks and the smell of mowed lawns.