“Look, look up at the stars!”
Every night, we have a routine at bedtime. Cats are fed, litter changed, one cat gets medication. The guinea pigs are all given a cuddle and a brief inspection to make sure they are in perfect fettle, then they’re given their supper. We usually stand and watch them hurtling round, pop-corning with the excitement of fresh hay and cucumber, before they settle in and get busy eating. Then I go out into the garden to put out food for any errant hedgehogs. This winter has been so mild I suspect some haven’t hibernated much. Most nights, the two bowls (one of meal-worms and the other of cat biscuits) has been emptied, though I cannot say by whom precisely as during the day I do see blackbirds going into the shelter to feed on whatever is there.
Some nights I am already in pyjamas and dressing gown and I’m deeply grateful that our garden is both private and sheltered, because despite the fences and hedges, sometimes the wind catches me and makes me gasp with its face-slapping chill. But I almost always take a moment to look up at the sky.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut. I read science fiction, mostly totally unsuited to my age at the time because the niche YOUNG ADULT didn’t really exist when I could be considered its target demographic. Those who grew up in the sixties and seventies and liked science fiction might also have encountered British author Hugh Walters, and his series of science fiction novels about a group of astronauts. The series was written primarily for children, though looking back he was probably one of the first authors to target older kids and what are now considered young adults. Back in the day before the internet, I’m afraid I took as fact a lot of what turned out to be complete fiction. My country didn’t have a space programme and by the time I got to secondary school I realised that never in my lifetime would it have a proper programme of manned space flights. A dream died, a dream that probably had its roots in my father getting us up at silly o’clock to watch on television the moon landing in 1969. I will never be an astronaut.
But I am an explorer nonetheless. Though I will never set foot on another planet, I do explore other worlds. I do this through words, through inner vision and through the understanding, sometimes dimmed by time and pain and doubt, that this existence with its matter and its heavy gravity, is not the only one. Looking up at the stars last thing each night reminds me of this, for the stars are vast distances away and may not be reached in a human lifetime, though as a species we may reach them yet. A dream died, a dream that was something born of a child’s wonder at the vastness of the universe and at our first faltering steps to explore it. A new dream slowly unfolded over the restless lifetime that followed, one that has urged me to explore not outer space, but the inner worlds of the unseen, often unheeded and reviled as navel-gazing and self-indulgence. I believe that these worlds may truly exist, but not in a physical way we can comprehend or bring back moon rocks from.
So when I gaze up at the night sky, intoning the constellations and greeting (when the night is clear enough) both Venus and the moon in whatever phase she has reached, I am touching base with an old dream that holds hands with the new one.