My parents moved our family a few miles into the country from the small town of Bristow in northeastern Oklahoma when I was ten years old. This might not seem like a drastic move but, instantly, waking up in the middle of the night, there were no sounds except those made by nature.
The night sky was brilliant yet I often took it for granted. At other times, I breathed the infinite connection to a celestial blanket. Peering up through an inexpensive telescope did nothing to lessen my wonder.
I wandered all of our three hundred and sixty acres and sometimes dared cross the barbed wire into our neighbor’s property. There was a clear spring fed pond surrounded by a mixture of wild trees. I imagined I was the only person to have ever visited this idyllic pool.
My father lurched into constantly productive motion. He built a barn, a corral and seemingly endless miles of fence thereby converting ideas gained from his depression era youth into my reality. I thought it was great that Dad taught me these things until he handed me the post hole digger or gave me the job of feeding the cows.
I have a visceral memory of the satisfying thunk of the digger boring deeper into the earth and the blisters worn through oversized workman’s gloves. I never told Dad I was amazed at his knowledge.
A visiting law professor from New York City later told me he loved rural Oklahomans because our perspective was broadened by the mere fact that we grew up seeing a relatively unpolluted night sky.
This is sometimes true but in a small town Church of Christ, I feared God. I use the word “fear” quite intentionally.
If I did not have the good fortune to be struck dead on the way back to my pew after whispering my sins to the preacher, as if at my age I knew sin, I feared eternity writhing in literal hell.
My youth has made me think of our first ancestors looking up at the clearest of night skies with reverent humility. I wonder what genius first decided to pretend to know something which could not then be known and how that arrogance led to my being taught eternal damnation at the age of ten.
I believe the flicker of my existence is bound to the past but that a doctorate in history would not enable me to encompass the endless links that brought me into being.
I grew up under the clear night sky, learning what my father’s father taught him. However, in this Tower of Babel where we gather in one place (the internet), with one language (emoticons, math and science), I wonder if my father’s toolkit of knowledge will have value to my children.
I choose to believe it will just as I choose to believe humanity will have a future as long lived as its past. We will develop new legacies of beauty, integrity and worth influenced, but not governed, by the legacies of our ancestors and by our humble place in the cosmos.
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