Late spring, 1999 or 2000. An acquaintance of mine had invited a bunch of people to his house in Mercer county, Pennsylvania.
I’d grown up in the area, small towns, rusting factories, a handful of bustling suburbs, and lots of country roads. I knew where Mercer County was on the map, and I knew it was rural, but I’d never actually been there. I assumed it was like my grandmother’s area – mostly farms, with a few small residential developments. Sheep, etc.
When I got to Mercer, however, I had a lesson in what “rural” really meant. Mercer wasn’t farms and a few developments, it was fields sprawled to the horizon, and some uninhabited forest growth left over.
We got to my friend’s home around mid-afternoon, and spent all of our remaining daylight taking a long, unhurried meander through his family land. We walked a few miles, played hide-and-seek for half an hour in an abandoned Christmas tree farm, and made our way back just as the sun was pulling the night over the horizon behind him.
I had never been to a place that was so quiet.
Once night had settled fully upon us, I realized I had never been to a place that was so dark.
There was no noisy glare in the distance from a shopping mall, no parade of headlights on the road, no friendly, safe street lamps to keep the blackness at bay.
The darkness was palpable, a creature with its own nature, like sitting in the belly of a whale.
I wasn’t afraid; I wasn’t alone.
While the boys scurried around getting a bonfire together, I lay down on the grass and looked up.
My G-d, what a vision.
I had never known you could touch the Milky Way, just reach your fingers into it and swirl it around like petals floating in cream. The stars pressed into me, surrounded me, standing guard in the blackness, singing.
They called my name, and I wrapped myself in them like an old comforter. I made friends that night in the grass whose names I will not know until the world is unmade, and we can greet one another with our own music, and be known for what we are.
I wish I could show you the Beauty, the Beauty behind the veil of this world. I wish that I had a song worthy of that grace, a poem equal to the greeting of one star.
My words are vapor, dust blown across an empty street.
Silence, silence may be the only language to open the way.
Seek it, my brothers and sisters. Seek it with every breath.
It is the only thing worth having.