In times of trouble some look to the stars for comfort. That’s what Michael Ellis has done since he was a young man.
I was 21 years old when my father died of lung cancer. I didn’t have a lot of emotional tools at my disposal. I was lost and adrift. But I did manage to look heavenward. I decided to spend that sultry southern month of August in 1972 to learn all the star names and constellations. I got myself a book called “The Friendly Stars” and bought a beat-up old rocking chair and got busy.
And I did indeed make lifelong friends with these more or less immutable and predictable (at least from this human’s perspective) points of light. Now, everywhere I travel I find stars and star patterns I recognize. Ah! There’s an old friend- bright Vega, barely visible above the northern horizon in Uganda. Those stars ground me, I am of the Earth, the spinning orb, stars wheeling overhead, year after year after year. And here at home at 38 degrees north latitude, that pole star is a constant. I know exactly where to find it.
Many folks know a few star groups — the Big Dipper, Orion, the Pleiades. My favorite is Scorpius — the scorpion. It’s one of the few constellations that actually looks like what it is and easy to see now in the southern sky. In its center is a bright star, a red giant, Antares. Antares literally means the rival of Mars. What a perfect name for a star that shares a similar brightness and color with the fierce God of War. The beautiful S curve of the tail of the scorpion ends in two bright stars called the stingers in Arabic.
We humans have a tendency to look for order in chaos, to find meaning and maybe purpose in the random points of light in the night sky. That is what I was trying to do years ago. I am now 10 years older than my father when he died. I will die and those friendly stars will keep on keeping on without me. And somehow, somehow that is comforting.