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Looking at the past, present

I’ve been walking down Memory Lane lately. Here’s one for you: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. But who doesn’t?

I thought going to the moon would be the coolest thing since sliced bread. Just being in space alone would be amazing. My weightless body could glide around effortlessly and I’d catch floating M&Ms and Jell-O in my mouth, and at any time that I wanted I could stare at the Milky Way just by taking a peek out my window.

I’ve always liked looking at the moon and stars in the nighttime sky. So far, though, the closest I ever got to space was seeing it through a telescope my parents got me for Christmas when I was around 9 or 10 years old.

It had a few different lenses with varying magnifications and it came in a great big box, probably the biggest present under the tree that year.

Later that night, or maybe it was the next day or so, we set up its tripod legs outside on our back deck and pointed the telescopic barrel up toward the heavens.

I grew up in the woods so light pollution was minimal, and it was a cold, crisp night. I could feel the snot inside my nose crystallizing, and I remember seeing the breath escaping our lips like bursts of fog, swirling up into the atmosphere, disappearing and reappearing and repeating. I can hear the tree branches crackling, swaying from the soft breeze, and the deck wood beneath our feet groaning and moaning from the bitter cold and our shifting weights.

The memory is frozen in my mind, but it’s not all there. It’s like the top layer of hard snow that reflects the moonlight, the kind you can step on firmly for just a moment until it gives way with a crunch beneath your full weight, then your foot sinks into the softer stuff below — the stuff you can’t see, just feel.

I can’t recall who was with me that night. I faintly remember my grandpa, or my dad, maybe both. My siblings could have been there, and my mom and grandma might’ve even come outside to take a peek through the telescope too. But time has stolen from me those cherished details, and I’m left with surmise.

As cold as it was that night, or as cold as I think it was, it’s a memory that brings my heart warmth around Christmastime, and yet a sadness comes over me when I recognize that it happened so long ago.

Christmas memories from my entire life get jumbled together — some vivid, others less so — and they blend into that warmth and love I feel every year around the holidays. The thoughts of friends and family, old and new, become something entirely different, something you can’t quite see clearly, but somehow you can still feel it.

Nostalgic is how I think it’s best described. But, then again, it’s not just for the past I long. It’s kind of like looking at those stars so far off in the night sky.

The vastness of the universe is hard to imagine. Light travels at more than 670 million mph, but those stars are lightyears away, so everything we saw that night happened ages ago — a distant memory already. And yet, there they were, millions of stars shining brightly through my telescope.

I can see Christmas right now, unfolding before my very eyes. But my perception of the holiday is also a collection of memories, something that’s formed from my past, the Christmases that happened years ago. Even if I can’t see all the details, I can still feel them.

I can use my mind’s telescope in an attempt to peek at individual memories, but I think I can feel Christmas best when I take a wider view of the night sky — when I let the warmth I feel from every star and every memory wash over me.

In a way, when I do that, I’m closer to the stars like an astronaut, like what I wanted when I was a kid so many years ago.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan Jarvi is city editor at The Mining Journal. He lives in Marquette with his wife, Sarah, and their dog, Tino. Contact him at rjarvi@miningjournal.net.

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