Last night, we left the house with the plan to go watch the meteor shower. Keyword: plan. And this was a conscious plan, mutually agreed upon by all three of us– "hey, tonight let's go check out the meteor shower!"– so there was really no question as to any of our intentions for what we wanted to do. We wanted to go see meteors, showers of them.
What we ended up doing was hanging out in a park where there was tons of light pollution (apparently, one has to drive 50 miles away to even begin to escape it) and barely any evidence of stars, let alone meteors.
The last time I set out to watch a meteor shower was for the Leonid shower in November 2001 (which was said to have given the "best shooting star show in 35 years"). A group of us hiked through a forest, stopped when we came to a decent clearing, and camped out on rocks and a ground covered with a thick blanket of dead pine needles. It was so tranquil, so peaceful, so quiet– the kind of quiet you can taste in the air and feel on your skin. And, oh, the sky– a black expanse mottled with shades of blue, and glittering stars as far as the eye could see. The meteor shower, beautiful and awe-inspiring as it turned out to be, was just icing on the cake of that expedition.
As well, when I lived in Vegas, I would occasionally take off in the middle of the night with a friend, and we would drive out of the city– drive and drive and keep on driving– until we were in an empty stretch of undeveloped desert, or in a tree-filled recess of Mt. Charleston, and there, too, we would be so filled with wonder by the majestic sky above us that we would go hours without speaking.
(On a side note: is it appropriate or ironic that one has to remove oneself from civilization to contemplate and appreciate the humility of humanity's minuscule existence within the cosmos?)
But back to tonight. I'd had these and other similar visions in my head upon hearing the meteor-shower plan. So when we ended up at the park, I was hugely disappointed. Like, heart-heavy and foot-dragging disappointed. I laid down in the grass and silently (but amiably) listened to the others chattering and stoically kept my sight on the hazy sky, determined to keep a vigil. All the while, I kept pushing off the dismay of the situation.
What's interesting, however– and I was fully aware of this at the time– was that if we'd left the house with the plan to just hang out at the park, I would have been perfectly satisfied with the night's turnout. (Though I still would have been quiet due to the millions of panicked and obsessive thoughts that were racing through my head.)
It's an odd thing, context. Or expectations. Like thinking you're about to drink water, and being repulsed by the realization that it's Sprite, even though under normal circumstances, you're a big fan of Sprite. When you have expectations, you invest hope for a specific outcome, and when you invest yourself in anything, you open yourself to risk of disappointment.
True, you could ward off disappointment by simply avoiding expectations altogether. You could just approach the glass of clear liquid and sample it apprehensively. Is it water, or is it Sprite? Either way, you're expecting nothing, so whichever it is will turn out to be a pleasant discovery. To be fair, it could also turn out to be grappa or rubbing alcohol, but since you initially expected nothing– which is equivalent to being prepared for everything– you can't really be disappointed. Only disgusted.
Of course, going through life without hope, without investments, just to play it safe, is no way to live. We must risk to gain, and invest hope to risk– as Kierkegaard says (and as I never tire of quoting), "Without risk, there is no faith." The hammer-blow of disappointment is a teaching tool, as we learn thus to cope, adjust, bounce back.
The hammer-blow of disappointment is a grim and unwelcome teaching tool.
But graduating students are all the richer for the education. I'm still working to get certified. I know all the procedures but am still a bit slow on the execution.
In the end, over the course of two hours, I saw one meteor and spent the rest of the time trying to ignore the scratchy grass and the occasional mosquito, and writing this post in my head. And also wondering about how to end this post, which I never figured out, so I guess I'll just leave you with a nerd video I can't stop loving: