It was like entering a giant cathedral, invited to a mystical once-in-a-lifetime event to which the entire world was also invited. Yet there was an intimacy unlike anything Notre Dame ever offered. On the way up — a familiar climb that bore an unfamiliar sense of impending awe — I encountered my first fellow pilgrim. She was in running clothes despite the chilly December dusk and I’d heard her swift sneakers approach. I was stopped mid-climb, though, as is somehow my regular custom on steep hills.
She stopped. “Are you OK?” I could hear her concern. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “I ran a half-marathon in 2006 myself. But I was 73 at the time; now I’m catching my breath.”
“That’s impressive,” she said, now running in place. “Are you going up to the park?”
“Definitely. I think I’ll be in plenty of time.”
“See you there,” she said, taking off upward. “Merry Christmas!”
Pilgrims, I think, are bound together by both a common purpose and a sense of goodwill. Of the others who passed me on uphill blocks — I can still hold my own on the level ones — most said hello; one, “beautiful night, isn’t it?”
Reaching the park and beginning the last uphill climb along the path was when I entered the cathedral. Darkness was quickly falling on this longest night of the year. Fellow pilgrims were scattered along the path and across the meadow — carefully staying more than six feet from each other — and most were motionless. Like Rodin statues artfully spaced across the cathedral, they reinforced the feeling of awe.
It was utterly silent.
Jupiter and Saturn do this little dance for earthling admirers every twenty years. But it’s been eight centuries since they performed this particularly stunning pas de deux for us, a “great conjunction” created by Jupiter’s catching up to Saturn just as they are orbiting the sun. People who understand all this far better than yours truly say the last time our fellow planets did their Great Conjunction thing, and it could be seen by earthlings, was in 1226.
Well, no wonder there was wonder. Some Christians think it was this event that led the wise men to Bethlehem. Fine with me, a Christian who struggles with much of the whole virgin birth/manger/shepherds/wise men thing, because mostly all I could see from the cathedral aisle way down below was one incredibly shining star. I guess I could have brought binoculars, but doubt they’d have made a lot of difference to my macular-degenerating eyes. Below me, though, under a park light, was a young man with a serious camera on a tripod. As I walked back down I said with some redundancy, “Can you see both of them?”
“Sure,” he answered. “Take a look.”
And there they were. Jupiter, orbiting its way around the sun exactly as planet earth is doing, and Saturn orbiting its own way around the sun, with even its rings also visible in this fine earthling device under the light. All three just going about the order of the universe without the slightest concern for the heartaches everywhere on the smallest planet of the them all. Amazing.
Peace on earth, goodwill to all.