“If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years,
how man would marvel and stare. But every night come out these
envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you remember, one of the big themes around here last year was the 26 Before 26 – a list of goals, mostly things I’d always been scared to try, to get me stepping outside of my comfort zone in a defiant rebellion at allowing myself to have been imprisoned by fear for so long. Sadly, as my deadline approached, life took a rapid turn into crazyville and I found myself falling short, but just because I didn’t achieve a handful of things by June doesn’t mean I’m not still going to strive for them. One of the things on that list was learning to drive. Now, I was already considered late to the party at seventeen, when most of my classmates had already taken their tests and begun driving themselves to school over a year prior; at twenty-six, I should probably just retire from even thinking about it. I’ve been (as a favourite television programme so affectionately calls it) a bus wanker for as long as I can remember, and though it does the job, it also often takes me three times as long to get anywhere. I also have to grocery shop several times per week thanks to a pair of girly arms in place of a car boot, and — a personal highlight — I get to revel in the delightful company of the city’s public transportationists. Not to mention the cost of a monthly pass, and long winter afternoons spent with the next incarnation of Narnia forming on your eyelashes when the bus driver understandably decides to just sod it. Getting a licence is something I’ve really wanted to do for a long time, but almost a decade after sitting in Driver’s Ed wondering why 10 mph isn’t a perfectly acceptable speed limit, I’m still just as terrified at the thought of sitting behind the wheel.
But lately, I’ve experienced another batch of those Signs from the Universe. Job opportunities sailed past ungrasped, and I continually fall short of being able to help loved ones in times of need, which doesn’t sit well. If I have you on Facebook, lately you may have noticed I’ve developed a rather insatiable passion for the night sky. Recently, The Professor introduced me to the magic that is the stars above us; outside the perimeter, free of the city’s light pollution, ordinary darkness is transformed into a glittering array of diamonds that literally takes my breath away. I wonder how it possibly took me so long to really see the beauty that lies above us every night; now I know what’s up there, I’m thoroughly enchanted, and can’t quite grasp how people go about their lives in a prison of urban signs and streetlights, never witnessing the magic overhead. We’ve spent several nights over the last couple of months passing away early hours somewhere secluded, lying under the heavens spotting constellations, gaping at passing nebulae, wishing on the most fiery shooting stars and listening to a meteor mixtape, or running down moonlit streets getting caught in epic electrical storms that explode across the sky. After my first meteor shower, exhilaration ran through my veins and I felt as if I’d climbed a mountain – no words can describe the sight of a thousand brilliant stars scattered across an infinite veil of midnight, a sight made even more incredible when shared.
Crazy lightning storm a few weeks ago, taken from the top of
a giant metal structure we decided to climb
The feeling of experiencing such epics in nature (I wish I could capture the stars… astrophotography course, anyone?) leaves me filled with awe, and a sense that if I can experience this, everything else seems rather inconsequential, and subsequently, just about anything is possible. This has catapulted me toward those things still left on my list, and over the last couple of weeks, I’ve crossed off a handful – but the scariest one had for a very long time been driving. Last week, we’d gone out in hopes of catching the northern lights (sadly a sight which still remains unseen), and riding the wave of adrenaline following bundling under a sky which appeared to be stealing satellites into other dimensions, we decided to make the most of the midnight roads and give me a chance to practice being in the driver’s seat. The park was closed, it was a Tuesday night, and it was almost one in the morning, so there was barely any traffic. I hopped in and with a little gentle encouragement, started doing a few laps around the park’s perimeter. I noticed a few things right away: firstly, that twenty miles per hour feels ridiculously fast, secondly, that maintaining a steady speed is far easier in Crash Team Racing than it is in real life, and thirdly, that when in a state of ultimate nervousness, my first assumption when butterflies fly toward the windscreen is that they are deer, and that I am very much going to run them over. I did learn a few things quickly though. Once I hit 60 mph, things didn’t seem so fast at all. It was also easier to stay in my lane without swerving in and out if I focused on some point far off in the distance than on the immediate road ahead (also, if I kept up a conversation). And that after a few laps, contrary to the sheer terror displayed below, I wanted to keep going.
The Professor was the best teacher ever. One of the many reasons he got the name he did! He was encouraging, reassuring, and assured me it was okay if I wanted to stop. He calmed my nerves with Hawksley Workman in the background and stories that replaced anxiety with laughter. He taught me how to shoulder check, and what signs meant, and walked me through merging into traffic. I ended up on the perimeter going 100 mph, navigated my way through roadworks in the dark, and continued across the whole city where 45 minutes later, I parked us outside my house. I’ll probably have to replace the steering wheel now it surely has imprints of my clenched hands two inches deep, but I had spent my second time behind the wheel driving 35 kilometres in the dark.
I got out of the car positively shaking and threw myself straight into an embrace, part in sheer joy as he told me how proud he was, and part in attempt to keep my heart from bursting out of my chest. I was so full of adrenaline that despite it being one in the morning, sleep showed no signs of making an appearance any time soon, and spent the next hour with blankets, Slurpees and laptop Doctor Who as my pulse slowed to normal and I drifted off in complete disbelief that something I’d felt would never make its way into the real world had actually just materialised. I know it’s just driving. But it’s by far been the thing I’ve been most terrified of for an awfully long time. I feel very lucky right now – to be inspired by the beauty of the universe, to simply be alive to witness it, and to be able to share it with someone who genuinely makes me feel I can do anything (a few weeks ago, I also found myself singing in public!). I’ve driven a few times since, and though pushing the pedal is usually accompanied by lots of screaming and/or crying, I haven’t hit anything, haven’t driven on the “British side”, and haven’t given in to the initial notion of pylons equalling prizes. It’s funny how dauntless you can feel when you have someone genuinely believe in you, and how inspired when fuelled by the magnificence of the galaxy. The world can be an amazing place… how very lucky I am to be soaking it all up. One more item on the list: very much checked.
“One thousand brilliant stars punched holes in my consciousness, pricking me with longing. I could stare at the stars for hours, their infinite number and depth pulling me into a part of myself that I ignored during the day.”
- Maggie Stiefvater