It is one of the strangest feelings to be lying at the bottom of a clear pool, facing upward. You have to plug your nose so that water doesn’t come into your head. Completely alone, your eyes are immediately drawn to the surface, which is odd, because the surface of the water is usually something looked down upon. For this moment, everything is turned around. Everything is above you, everything ahead of you, laid out perfectly in clear ripples and sunlight. The wind blows the surface, but you remain untouched. The water acts as your armour, serving as protection from the of the land above.
At home I am, without fail, greeted by what I call the Aurora Chicagoalis, like the Northern Lights, but coming from the millions of people, concentrated like ants in a hill that is just too small. Street lights, lamps and electronic devices make up the Auroras, rather than photons making the eight minute journey from the sun to our eyes. The ominous orange glow burns into my eyes in the otherwise dark and desolate sky. The moon is hidden most nights behind low-lying clouds, which are being overprotective of us here on Earth. I can’t blame the clouds; seeing millions of stars and a glowing orb like the face of God hanging in the night sky makes us feel small, and this is frightening. We are raised being told that we are important and make a difference. The stars say otherwise. Perched atop nothing but empty space, they mock us, telling us we are insignificant. And the smoggy clouds know it. The Auroras and the clouds work together to protect our egos, giving us a false sense of security.
My parents and I were in New Zealand on one of the most remote places on planet earth, next to the open ocean. Stewart Island marks the edge of the world, telling visitors with its sharp cliffs and dense forests that there is nothing beyond. Being there was like being off the Iberian Peninsula in ancient times, going west through the Strait of Gibraltar while believing that the Earth was flat. One misstep, and off the edge of the world you go. But it was then that we took a stroll through time, through the woods of prehistoric ferns and lepidodendron, ascending to the heavens, surrounded by the foreign sounds of birds and creatures of the night. We reached a clearing and, in the same way your eyes are pulled to the heavens when under the water, the gravity of the stars and the moon seemed to beckon our eyes towards them. The moon shone as bright as the sun, the Southern Cross and the constellations all fell into place. I knew at this moment how ancient peoples could chart the stars and see pictures hidden within them, like a cruel, brilliant puzzle left unsolved for millennia. The fear of this unknown world beyond the cliffs and beyond the ocean, across the sky and onto the constellations connected me to the ancient people who looked up and saw what I saw and feared what I feared. A ribbon of stars passed across the sky, belting the Earth to its place in the galaxy. I then saw an unmistakable streak of light dart across the sky like a pondskater hopping on the water above. It was then I knew that I had seen what is often believed in popular culture to be a wish, but anyone who resides under the clouded skies and the Auroras will likely never see. The brisk wind stopped in its tracks and at this moment the shooting star effortlessly led my eyes across the sky with it. Time stopped around me, and I was watching light from eons ago make a mark on my modern world. At that moment there was complete peace. Just my sight and the stars.
It has occurred to me that it is very likely that I was the only person on the planet to see that star. Seven billion people, many living under the clouds, others consumed with the light of their screens, not looking to the light of the cosmos. Miracles like this are happening every day. All we have to do is look up from our bright screens and clouded minds, away from the bright auroras and clouded skies. I know now that the only way to truly see the world is to see it through a lens that you are not used to looking through. Through the surface of the water, you gain protection. Away from the clouds you gain serenity and hope.