I enjoy looking up at a starry sky, especially on these warm summer nights. The lights of the city down the hill hold the same fascination for me. Sometimes I like to watch the traffic rush down the freeway at night. Have you noticed how the trucks are lit up with beautiful lights? (I don't know when that started, but I think it's cool.) When it comes to anything shiny, bright, colorful or sparkly, I just can't resist. It's just the way I have always been. And for some strange reason these things and the moments spent admiring them calms me.
Lately I have been indulging in this hobby more often, simply because the nights are very warm and my circumstances at present allow me the luxury to do so. Lucky me! Or maybe I'm just a teeny-weeny bit insane. In my defense I could use the turmoil of the last eleven months as an excuse for sliding just a little off my rocker, but I don't want to write any more about my troubles, and you certainly don't want to read about them. (You have enough trouble of your own!) We all develop little coping mechanisms to ease our pain.
You may be thinking the subject of this little essay is about how I cope with fear.
The subject here is about the increasing fear I have noticed among the strangers I have seen during my harmless indulgence in admiring the shining, sparkling, twinkling, and colorful that is best seen at night.
First off: as far as I know I look and dress like a normal citizen. Well, usually. Sometimes I eschew shoes for my bedroom slippers simply because shoes hurt my feet. (Is it a crime to wear slippers outside? They're not the fuzzy kind, just hardly noticeable house slippers.) Maybe all the well dressed in Redding see that as a serious fashion faux pas, especially when those slippers are paired with a long summer dress. Aside from the slippers, there is nothing outwardly strange about me that would scare people. (I HOPE NOT, anyway!)
Which brings me back to the subject of fear. I wonder if the location I choose is the root of the problem. I have found a great spot with a great view just steps away from my home, and that is where I go. It is well lit and not isolated. There are buildings there where people come and go twenty-four hours a day. These people are of every economic class, cultural background, etc. In other words, typical human beings forced by circumstance to put up with each other for a while. (Maybe that alone is enough to put them on the defense.) In other words, the location is a very safe place, certainly further protected by a large number of hidden cameras spying on the whole scene. (Look, Mom! I'm on TV!!)
Yet all this security is not enough for the average person entering or exiting the building who sees a stranger in a long dress and house slippers stargazing early in the night. Rare is the person who replies to my greeting. Many are the persons who give me a wide berth. Those people have fear in their eyes. They think I may have an ulterior motive other than enjoying the night-lights and celestial show. They expect I am a danger to them - little old me. They expect I can chase them down in my house slippers while soliciting for a handout or a donation to Unwed Bowlers of America or something.
Or, does it go deeper than that? Is it only a fear of connecting with another human? Have we gotten that afraid of each other?
Yes, the social fabric of America has been coming apart for decades. There are more transients, nut cases, and criminals living on our streets. There is anger as well as fear. We are angry because we can't seem to fix what is wrong, fearful because what is wrong does not want to be fixed. What is Wrong is the real predator. It eats away at our security, laughs at our hope, compromises our freedom. Even the most benign-looking person can be a serial killer. Good God, we don't know who we can trust!
But there is a sliver of hope, and it comes in the latest string of natural disasters here in America, Puerto Rico, Mexico, etc. Strangers are rescuing strangers. Strangers are feeding strangers. Strangers are sheltering strangers. Strangers are becoming friends. Many, once strangers, will become permanent friends.
This is how human beings are when faced with a common peril. Social barriers are swept aside, fear is forgotten, compassion overrides it all. In a major disaster we become one cohesive unit. Yes, there will always be the bad people who take advantage of the bad situation for their own nefarious needs and wants; I'm not talking about them. Those are the parasites that erode our trust, compassion and hope. They will always be an element in our social fabric, no matter where in the world we live.
It's amazing how one common experience can cause us to release our fear and exchange it for courage.
So, if you come across a nice lady in a long dress and comfy house slippers gazing up at the sky some night, take a moment to look at what she is looking at.
She might turn to you and say, "Isn't that beautiful? I love it when the sky is clear at night, don't you?"
And perhaps you will nod in agreement, and maybe you will reply to her. You may even experience a brief recollection of a childhood moment spent just like this. And then you will notice her slippers and wonder if she is some kind of loony. Don't be afraid to ask her - she'll briefly (and humorously) explain, and then she'll drop the subject. She will mention how the wonderful summer night and its sparkling stars fill her with a sense of wonder and profound peace. And you will remember that is how you felt so long ago when you took a moment to notice the night sky.
You will then share that moment - a connection with something good in the world. After a short while you will politely say goodnight and go on your way.
She wasn't so scary, after all.