Reflections of a History Professor Looking Through a Telescope at 4 a.m., Part I

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courtesy of EarthSky.org

Reflections of a History Professor

Looking

Through a Telescope at 4 a.m.

 

I

One morning at 4 a.m.,

you are able to view five

planets simultaneously

in the southwestern

sky. Mercury, Venus,

Saturn, Mars, and

Jupiter, visible in a

wide arc low above

the horizon.

 

When you are 70

memories fly at you like

flies swarming a picnic.

They are near impossible to catch and hold,

let alone kill,

or drive away.

 

You would think that lived experience,

especially the big things—the

experiences that you claim you will never

forget for the rest of your life,

no matter how long you live—

would remain fixed in your mind.

 

I was in my forties when my wife and I

finally had a child, April.

I remember holding my daughter

moments after she was born,

with my head swelling and my eyes leaking.

 

In that moment I thought I would always

remember the texture of her skin, the

pierce of her cry, the solid weight of her

body, the pressure building in my heart like a

plane on takeoff.

 

Memories, we think, should be concrete,

like a flashback played in a movie,

with sharp lines and indelible colors,

objective,

like the camera lens itself.

 

But daughters grow old and the demands of

life continue to build and one day you

realize that you don’t remember what it

felt like to hold her little girl hand in the

parking lot or the smell of her hair

fresh out of the bathtub or the

maddening joy/frustration

of a simple walk down the street—

a matter of a few hundred yards that

should take ten minutes and

serve the double function of getting your

wife off your back because she hasn’t

“had one moment to herself,” as well as

clear the head for another go at writing

that tricky chapter on the consequences

of the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas,

only to become a series of starts and stops,

picking of dandelion bouquets and

sorting of rocks, idle questions

about God and the world he made,

and silly songs—

that ends up taking an hour and by the

time you get back to your desk the writing trail

has gone cold and your wife is still mad and

your daughter needs a snack and that loose

step on the stairs is still loose

and on it goes.

FatherDaughterMotherSon

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2 thoughts on “Reflections of a History Professor Looking Through a Telescope at 4 a.m., Part I

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