It had been an extremely long day, and I was exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed and dream for a few hours. However, on that extremely cold night in November, I dragged myself and my reluctant roommate out of our cozy dorm room. Armed with blankets, pillows and about 12 layers of clothing apiece, we waddled out and made a nest in the middle of the soccer field adjoining our dorm.
We settled down to wait. It was late November, and, being a self-proclaimed astronomy dork, I was excited: the Leonid meteor shower was to take place that night—well, morning I should say, much to my sleepy roommate’s chagrin. My professor had reminded us of the event for weeks, but we were probably the only college students on our campus actually willing to brave the freezing temperatures to watch it, out of complete fascination and curiosity or complete stupidity. Probably a combination. But there we were, alone, waiting.
Payoff! The first meteor streaked across the sky, and my roommate and I cheered. This was followed by another … and another … and another. They were of assorted color, duration, and altitude, a variety I never knew existed. Dusty greens, fiery reds, golden hazes, bright whites … I remember one shooting star that lasted seemingly forever, leaving a trail of sparkling gold dust behind it across the sky. They began to appear more quickly, and, invariably, the moment I would look away, my roommate would “ooo!” or “ahhh!” to announce the sighting of another. We lost count after the first 10 minutes and simply enjoyed the show.
A few hours after we had been out I remember lying there on the field, my eyes filled only with the night sky, I suddenly had a peculiar sensation. Instead of the usual feeling of being planted firmly on the ground with the heavens suspended above me, I had instead the dizzying sensation that I was simply suspended in the middle of that sky, in the midst of the stars, as I truly am. After all, I am resting on the earth, but the earth is resting on … nothing.
I began to call to mind all of the random figures and facts that our teacher had drilled into us, about the enormous distances between the stars, the hundreds of years it would take to reach even the nearest one … that our galaxy was comprised of billions upon billions of stars … that there was only one galaxy observable to the naked eye, the Andromeda galaxy … and yet there are billions of those galaxies out there. Billions! My mind can’t even quite comprehend that rather small measurement, let alone the larger numbers required to describe the vastness of the universe.
As I lay there, I realized that stars were being formed, galaxies were spiraling into one another, supernovas were violently exploding. How extraordinary! A scripture—God’s words to Job—came to my mind: “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?” (Job 38:31-33 Job 38:31-33 31 Can you bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
32 Can you bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or can you guide Arcturus with his sons?
33 Know you the ordinances of heaven? can you set the dominion thereof in the earth?
American King James Version×, New International Version).
I felt indescribably tiny, my life insignificant. Physically, I could hardly count myself as dust. I was overwhelmed with the sheer grandeur of this universe that I inhabit, a universe of which I know almost nothing about, and yet the little that I do know is mind-bogglingly beautiful and can only lead me to conclude extraordinary things about the Being who fashioned it.
My thoughts were suddenly brought back to earth by a biting gust of wind. I sat up and looked around for a moment, and it suddenly occurred to me as oddly wonderful, the place in the universe that I personally inhabited. I glanced around at the fields in which I lay, the tree-covered hilltops off in the distance, the nearby darkened houses, and finally at my brave friend willing to share the frosty morning with her crazy roommate, watching chunks of rock disintegrate in our atmosphere.
Out of all the universe, that was my place. That tiny little corner of space and time was mine to inhabit and affect. I might only be dust, but I am dust with a purpose. What an incredible opportunity! What an incredible universe—and what an incredible mind behind it! VT