In August I wrote a post about a tradition of watching the Perseid Meteor Showers with my husband, Charley and for our anniversary I signed us up for a membership in Skyscrapers, “a group of people who are interested in the wonders of the sky.” Seagrave Memorial Observatory in North Scituate, Rhode Island is alive on Saturday nights with astronomers and observers who love discussing and learning about all things celestial.
At our first meeting in September (International Observe the Moon Night), I looked through a restored 1878 Alvan Clark refractor telescope and came face to face with the surface of the moon, craters and all. It was awesome. Another telescope was focused on Saturn and it took awhile for me to adjust the settings to actually see the planet and its rings. At first it just looked to me like a tiny paper clip. But we all know from past posts that technology is not my forte. (There’s supposed to be an accent over the “e” in “forte” but I don’t know how to do that yet, either.) I really want to learn more about operating these telescopes, because Bob, one of the engineers, is going to teach a class on astrophotography. How cool is that?! Then you’ll really see some out-of-this-world photos here. But for now you’ll have to be satisfied with pictures of pumpkins, sunflowers, grilled cheese, Charley and of course, cats.
Last Friday night we headed up to the November meeting with our friend Clark. He’d been one of the Grumman Engineers who worked on the Apollo Spacecraft Landing Design. (For those of you too young to remember any of this historic event and for those of you older folks who would like to take a walk down memory lane, I’ve included an info-graphic on the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in July of 1969.) We thought he’d enjoy meeting some of the engineers and astronomers who comprise the Skyscraper Group. He did. And they were honored to meet him.
That night’s slide presentation and talk was given by Alan Sliski. It documented the acquisition and moving of the Princeton 36-inch Boller and Chivens telescope from New Jersey to New Mexico. This move involved cautiously taking apart and cataloging each part of the telescope, hoisting it out of the Observatory through the dome with a crane, loading it on a flatbed truck and getting it safely to a storage facility in New Mexico. Plans are being made to construct an observatory in which to house it and then it will have to be put back together carefully, piece by piece. Now, I have trouble rotating the mattress on my bed during Spring cleaning, but this telescope move was epic, leaving me to place the mattress thing into proper perspective.
Perspective keeps weaving its way into my thoughts a lot lately. I find myself looking up at the sky, always coming to the realization that I am a tiny dot in the universe around me. It’s quite humbling. But it’s not just the infinite enormousness of it all. It’s the encompassing smallness, too. Macrocosm, microcosm. Yin, yang.
The evening following our trip to Seagrave, we had the opportunity to share a meal and conversation with members of a local Mosque. Now, my experience with other religions is very limited. I was brought up in a Catholic home and educated in parochial schools for 12 years. At that time, Catholics were discouraged from finding out about other religions. When I was in the second grade, my aunt signed me up for swim classes at the local Young Women’s Christian Association. My teacher overheard me talking to another child about this and informed the Mother Superior who dutifully informed my parents that the YWCA was Protestant based organization and I should not be participating in their functions. And so, after only three lessons, my swimming instructions ceased. Should I find myself drowning at some point in the future, I’ll place the blame directly on the head of Sister Mary Paranoia who ratted me out.
Much has changed since my childhood. This would not happen now, I hope. I severed my ties with the Catholic Church while in college. I realized one day while soul-searching that I’d never really been a true believer and went along for many years not attending services. A while back, at Charley’s request, we began to attend the Congregational Church in town. At the beginning of their service, the Deacon makes announcements and then says, “Whoever you are and wherever you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I have come to truly cherish this community of caring people. Lately, our pastor, Weldon, a wise and kind man, has begun to open doors for his congregation. He has connected with religious leaders of other faiths and is arranging for us to visit with them at their places of worship. They, in turn, will visit with us. And that is how, we ended up spending our Saturday evening with others from our Church learning about the Muslim Community in our area; watching them at prayer, listening to young women present what their religion means to them, talking, asking questions and sharing a home-cooked meal.
Such an enlightening weekend! Friday, studying the mysteries of the heavens, Saturday, learning more about the people on my own planet. I was left with the distinct feeling of being such a small part of a vast universe made up of many communities of human beings inter-connected by living together and helping each other survive life on earth. The older I get, the more I realize how much I do not know. As I said, it is truly humbling. But I also realize that I want to keep learning as much as I can, because knowledge and understanding trump ignorance. And ignorance is dangerous. If allowed to spread, it can wipe us all off the face of the earth.