This I Believe

Gordon - Palo Alto, California
Entered on September 2, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: nature, science

I believe that our lives can be enriched by the simple act of looking through a telescope. When I was a boy I met a man named John Dobson. John was (and still is) a sidewalk astronomer. That is to say he is an amateur astronomer who sets up his telescope in public places so that others might look through it. I’m a sidewalk astronomer as well.

My pride and joy is a three and a half inch Questar telescope. It’s a sweet little optical masterpiece. If it were a musical instrument it would be a Stratavarious. If it were a car it would be a Ferrari. But it’s not the quality of the workmanship that matters most. Thousands of people have looked through my little telescope to behold astronomical wonders. Through it they have seen the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus and the craters on the moon. That’s the reason why my telescope is worth so much more than the sum of its parts.

Standing beside my telescope I’ve been asked many questions but the most profound of these questions may well be, “Are the stars immortal?” The answer to that question is, “No, they are not”. Stars are born from the simplest of elements, hydrogen and a little bit of helium. Over the eons they slowly consume their fuel until they die. But in their death throes stars fuse hydrogen into oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and the other heavy elements that are essential for organic life.

It is a simple fact, not romantic hyperbole, that stars die so that we might live. I find this truth wonderful and life affirming. We don’t know what purpose our lives serve. It’s a mystery. We are only human and so how can any of us know the mind of the Creator? However I know that we are all part of something that is much larger and much more wonderful then we can ever imagine. That knowledge makes it a little bit easier for me to except my own mortality.

Like anyone else I worry about all the silly little mundane things. I worry about paying the rent. I worry about my hair falling out. I worry about getting old. But when I set my telescope up under the night sky all those concerns seem to fall away. Sidewalk astronomy is my way of giving thanks for everything that I have. It is my way of paying homage. And, if there are other people who are willing to take a moment to stop and look through my telescope and ask me questions, the experience is just that much better. This I believe.