Showered by the Leonids; when you wish upon a star


    It happens every time. Some celestial happening is scheduled for the predawn hours; I set my alarm for the appointed hour, then sleep through it or forget to turn it on because I’ve nodded off reading or watching TV.

    The peak of the Leonid meteor shower was supposed to be around 2:30 Tuesday morning. I decide to stay up and watch Charlie Rose, then switch to CNN.

    About 30 minutes of world news and I’m getting seriously depressed, so I hit the mute and pick up my book du jour, Bob Woodward’s “Bush Goes to War.” Somewhere in chapter two, Bush slides to the floor. I drift off. I wake with a start, still depressed. Dreamland is a troubled place these days.

    It’s 2:43 a.m.; starving children, hijacked planes and car bombs have faded to black. A CNN reporter is doing his standup interviewing folks gazing heavenward. Oohs and aahs punctuate the usual banalities. The meteor shower has peaked at about 6,000 an hour.

    I turn off the TV and reading light-the rest of the house is black-throw on a parka and stumble outside. The heavens twinkle with stars only slightly dimmed by a full moon that’s painted the hillsides platinum. A breeze ruffles the silvery tips of drying blossoms on rabbit brush. The only sound is a distant hum of semis on the Grapevine. Even the border collie is silent, guarding the oak where last night she herded a raccoon into my grandson’s tree house. I think of the environmentalist sleeping in the 400-year-old oak sentenced to death by a bulldozer in the name of development, at the southern end of these mountains. Progress to some; a blight on the landscape to others. Nothing’s simple.

    The border collie abandons her post and sits beside me. The orange cat rubs against my leg. They seem to have struck a mutual, if fleeting, truce. Anything’s possible on such a night. A few streaks brush the sky. Ooh. Aah. Make a wish on a falling star. My wishes are too long. I can’t even name all the people for whom I wish good things in the brief moment a meteor casts its dying light.

    I used to make a wish every night on what I thought was the evening star: Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. After years of wishing for a long, happy life with my family all well and together, my sister informed me that was not the evening star I’d been addressing. Seems I was pouring out my hopes to the space station. Oops. No wonder things weren’t working out.

    Another streak, east to north. I wish health, happiness, prosperity for my family and . . . Gone. Okay, how do I condense this and not leave anyone out. I don’t need to wish for a long and happy life. I’ve already had that. My children and grandchildren are well, at least for now, we’re together, most of us, most of the time, though sometimes only in spirit.

    Streak. May we all be well and here together next yeeea . . .

    Wait a minute. I’m out here gazing at the heavens on a magical night. Surely my wishes should be less provincial, more global, even cosmic. The health of my family is a flyspeck on the wallpaper of the planet. Aren’t we, after all, dependent on the well-being of all those others who, even at this very moment, may not be wishing us well?

    Streak. Health and prosperity to everyone in the worl . . .

    Streak. Enlightenment for the leaders of all nat . . .

    I’ve got to simplify this. My puny wishes can’t change the course of history. They can’t even halt galloping pollution on one small part of the planet. Still, if I were to wish only good things for everyone in the whole world, that would, naturally, include us.

    Streak. I wish everyone on earth enough to eat and a safe place to slee . . .

    Nobody said this would be easy.

    The shower is tapering off. A short, wide smudge here; a faint, slender line way over there. The moon is settling on the crest of a mountain to the west. My neck hurts from looking up. I’m shivering. I leave what remains of the cosmic light show to the border collie and the orange cat.

    Inside, I curl up on the floor beside the glass door with a view of the southern sky. I’m reluctant to give up pinning my hopes on these meteoric flameouts. Maybe I’ll get this all sorted out in time for the Geminid meteors next month.

    Streak. Peeeace.