I took a walk last night along the river Lee, feeling lonely and missing you as much as ever. I sat on a bench watching the dark water pass and enjoying the cool night air. Then I looked up at the sky, at all the stars, and noticed the constellation Orion, one of my favorites along with Cassiopeia. Now, it would be cliché to just say that I gained a great peace from looking into the heavens and knowing you could look up at the same stars—that’s been said a thousand times in a thousand songs and cheesy movies—but, nevertheless, it really did. However, my thought process and feelings were so much more than that.
You see, for whatever nerdy reason, I know an awful lot about the Orion constellation. I know that mammoth ivory-carvings of it, which date to over 30,000 years old, were discovered in Europe less than 50 years ago. So that means that it’s not just you and I that can look up and see the same stars, it’s all of human history. I know that, almost inexplicably, every ancient civilization from Chinese antiquity, across the middle east, through ancient Greece and Rome, all over Europe and across the ocean to the Americas, North and South, Orion has been depicted and believed in as some form of mythos or religion as a hunter of some sort. I know that in his earliest incarnations, by the Babylonians, Orion wasn’t simply a hunter but a messenger to the gods, from humanity. Also, because Orion’s arrow always points north, it has guided ages of sailors—and ancient Egyptian traders in the Sahara— safely home. So in that sense, Orion represents a long history of hope—hope that we are connected to something greater than ourselves, and that we will not become lost.
Then, scientifically I know that Orion consists of a number of stars including Rigel, Betelgeuse and Bellatrix—some of the brightest stars in our night sky, which are over 100,000 times more luminous than our sun. I know that Rigel and Betelgeuse are supergiants nearing the end of their lives. When they finally go supernova the explosions will be visible in our daytime sky. Then, in Orion’s belt is a binary system of stars, orbiting around each other about once a week. Also, I know that one of the stars in Orion’s sword is not a star at all, but the Orion Nebula (M43). A star factory, all collapsing clouds of gas and dust, over 2,000 times more massive than our sun, which gives us insight into the formation of stars around it and planetary systems throughout the galaxy. I look at it and I feel small, and huge—we are a singularity, we are infinite.
In Orion is the wonder of the universe, and of us.
Now, all of this seems like a lot to sit and think about on a bench along the river Lee at midnight, but that’s just how my mind gets going sometimes. So, there I was, missing you, staring up at the stars, thinking all of these things, and finally it came to me; a spectacular peace settled over me as I realized this simplicity:
Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.