Stars in Reach

Pegasys constellation. In the sky.

My astronomy TA was a really nerdy guy. At least to a few of us political science/history type undergrads taking a summer class to fulfill distribution requirements. One short class looking at the stars, and we had three natural science credits including lab toward that bachelors’ of the arts degree.

I’m sure the TA had one of those classically 60’s name like Steve or Dave or Mike. He would never go by Steven or David or Michael, and certainly not Caleb or Liam.

Steve?Dave?Mike? had oversized heavy aviator glasses that barely held his thick lenses in place and not-on-purpose disheveled hair. The most remarkable thing about him–and remark about this we frequently did–was the embroidery on the back pocket of his jeans.

They were constellations.

We found that amusing in that snarky, look at the nerd way.

We had class in the morning twice each week. Sometimes class would be in the planetarium so we could study the location of the stars in the sky. We learned by looking at the ceiling filled with an image of the sky filled with stars.

Steve?Dave?Mike? would point to different groups of stars and in the dark as we leaned back to look at the “sky” he told us stories. Stories about Pegasus, the great winged horse (see the big box there?), and about Cepheus (that house over there), and his wife Cassiopeia (the “W” on the other side of the sky) trying to protect the maiden, Andromeda (less distinctive, but you can see that line on the horizon).

Sweet Steve?Dave?Mike? was an astrophysicist kindly sharing his love for our universe with us not worthy of what he knew. He’d take us out on the roof at 9:30 pm (the sun sets late during a Michigan June). He’d set up the telescopes so we could see the moons of Jupiter. It was remarkable and humbling.
I fell in love with the sky.

I still look at the stars to pick out the belt of Orion. I squint to see the stars of Draco between the Little Dipper and it’s Big Dipper sibling. I follow the permutations of the moon and text my family when it is especially noteworthy.

I remember the time I first saw the Milky Way on a moonless night far away from the light pollution of the city. And shooting stars. And sometimes when my family is away from me, I’ll look to the sky and take comfort that they can see the same stars.

We found out that his wife held the needle and thread and stitched the stars on his jeans. This was shocking to us twenty-year olds because the only people we knew who were married were our parents. He had a wife, someone who loved him. And we loved him a little bit, too.