Monday, January 20, 2020

The Quads of Hope

2020 has come.  It arrived in the usual way on January 1 for most of the world that follows the Gregorian calendar, some 13 days later in the Old Style Julian calendar.  There's no escaping it:  2019 is in the past.  

What 2019 brought us, however, is alive and well with all the continuity of a spline interpolation fit.  The divisions in U.S. society are blooming in this winter as never before, something I now get to experience firsthand as I knock on doors in my conservative district on behalf of Democratic Congressman Jared Golden.  It's winter in America with little sign that our national vision will approach the acuity implied by the year.  Where will we be next November?  I was in Copenhagen when election morning 2016 dawned with the shock of a new reality, a nightmare that has engulfed us ever since.  Will this nightmare ever end?

My personal reality in retirement also has not been the rosy future I expected.  After one of the best month's of my life bike-packing from DC to Maine in September, my retirement was hijacked on October 4 by a legal issue involving my State Department pension.  What at first seemed like a simple, easily corrected error in the computation of my annuity has evolved into a legal morass involving attorneys with no end in sight in the near future.  For now, I am living on two thirds of the retirement income I expected.  That's more than adequate for rural Maine, but all thoughts of traveling back to Romania and Kazakhstan are on hold.  Moreover, October and November were consumed in their entirety by legal paperwork and the necessity of re-living some decidedly negative emotional episodes of my past.

The Quadrantids give me hope.  A meteor shower named for a constellation, Quadrants, that no longer exists on modern star maps, the Quads are elusive.  The peak lasts all of a few hours.  If one is not in the right place at the right time with a good, dark sky, it will be as though the Quads did not happen.  I remember a frigid January night in the 1970s with a friend on Long Island.  We stood in an open field in a park, rubbing our hands together and hopping from one foot to another in a vain attempt to stay warm.  Our hope of seeing even a single Quad proved just as vain. 

The years and decades went by.  I never seemed to find myself in the right place at the right time.  I never saw a Quad.  I thought I never would.

Then 2020 dawned.  The peak for the Quads was predicted for about 3am EST on the morning of January 4.  When I went to bed on the evening of the 3rd, the sky was completely clouded over with a forecast for the same through the 4th.  Another year goes by, I thought, as I turned in for the night.

Heating by wood in a small home in rural Maine saved the day.  I woke in my bed, feeling cold, and went downstairs to throw another log in the stove.  As I did, I noticed the time:  3am.  I looked out my window and with some surprise saw the sky had cleared.  Still in my nightgown, I pulled on a long coat, hat, and tall boots.  I stepped out onto my porch and looked up.  Within a minute I saw my first dim, swift meteor.  Then there was another much brighter one.  I started to count slowly from 1 to 60, my estimate of a minute.  Over 15 minutes I saw 15 meteors streak across the starry blackness of a Maine winter sky, the best count of meteors I have had since watching the Leonid meteor storm of 2001 with my son and friends.  

At a younger age I would have dressed even more warmly and headed out into my snowy field with a sleeping bag and reclining lawn chair.  I remember many a teenage August night in a field in Michigan staying up for hours to watch the annual Perseid shower.  Those days are in my past.  As the cold started to seep through to my skin, I smiled to think that at last, I have seen the Quads.  I went inside and returned to the warmth of my bed with a smile.

These were my Quads of hope, both for my personal, unexpected legal battle and for my country.  The wonder of a shooting star stays with us no matter what our age, who we are, or where we come from.  May that wonder lead us on to a better place.