In memory of Dunblane and Newtown…
About 1 a.m. last Friday morning, I shut down the computer, went upstairs, and bundled myself from top to toe. I sneaked out the front door without rousing Rusty and made my way to the driveway where I could lean against the car and stare up at the sky.
Watching the Geminid meteor shower is a long-standing Christmas-time ritual for me, although I haven’t done it as much in recent years. Or rather, there were reasons it didn’t work out: a full moon, an overcast sky, too cold, and so on. It’s been happening that way with all the meteor showers; I go out and look but I haven’t seen any for years due to the aforementioned variables.
Early on December 14, though, conditions were perfect. It was cold, but I’d dressed well. The sky was clear and, even with all the house and business lights to dull visibility, the stars were breathtaking.
And after about 10 minutes, I did see a meteor. Not just a wink of pinhead light but a true streak I could follow with my eyes. Then I saw another. Then another.
It was cold leaning against the car and I was having trouble shielding my eyes from the spotlights in nearby driveways, so I went into the backyard. Although more of the sky was veined with the bare branches of trees, it was also darker. I focused on a spot to the southeast that seemed to be having more activity and saw some wonderful meteors. By then it was approaching 2 a.m., my leg was cramping up, and finally I was getting chilly. I figured I’d probably seen the peak of the shower anyhow.
I entered the front door to find Rusty looking up at me expectantly from the futon. I let him out the back door and waited, watching that same portion of the sky from the kitchen door. Once more, I saw a bold streak of light.
I had felt extremely peaceful out in the dark yard. Spots of Christmas lights shone here and there and distant traffic sounds reached me from the interstate, but the overwhelming sensation was of stillness and peace. I was alone, just me and the stars; and I thought how they say we die alone, even if loved ones or caregivers surround us. I thought how I could face that, heading out of life all by myself, if the darkness that crept in was as lovely as that starry December sky.
Next morning I awoke to the terrible breaking news from Connecticut; that night the sky was overcast. In the days since, I’ve reached back to that solitary vigil on a clear winter’s night and the peace I felt. That peace still exists, somewhere.
Both the stars and the Sandy Hook tragedy reminded me of the song in the video above, sung here by John McDermott, one of the original Irish Tenors. The song is “One Small Star” by Eric Bogle, and he’d written it in response to the elementary school massacre in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996.
I first heard this song when McDermott sang it live during a pledge break on our local PBS station after explaining the context of the lyrics. It’s gorgeous, but I found it too heartbreaking to bear. The shooting was such a horrid thing to have happened; and the lyrics tore at me as I imagined such a tragedy happening to any of the children in my life. Whenever the show was repeated, I left the room when that song came on, and I never tried to search it out on YouTube.
On Friday, though, I couldn’t stop hearing this song in my head, even though I didn’t know all the melody or words. I’ve made myself watch this video several times, as if doing so was bearing witness to the loss the victims and their families suffered in Newtown. Many listeners find it comforting rather than painful. Whatever your response, I hope you listen in tribute to those 20 Sandy Hook children—and the 16 in Dunblane, as well as the adults who died with them.