T recoiled from the blow of the soccer ball to his nose, covering his face with his hands. It's never fun to watch a seven-year old get nailed in the head, and I immediately rushed up to him, along with my fellow babysitters and a number of the kids we were babysitting. Perhaps soccer wasn't the best idea, I thought.
"You okay?" I asked T, kneeling down to his level. I saw him shake his head, but his hands remained firmly clenched on his face. "Do you want to go sit down?" I couldn't interpret his response.
"T," his brother said, walking up and holding his shoulders. "You need to let us see your face, so we can see if you're bleeding." I hadn't thought of that. T moved his hands just enough so his brother could see him. "OK, you're fine," he said, patting T on the shoulder. I repeated my question.
"Do you want to go sit down?"
"I think he should go sit by the church," my fellow babysitter J (not J from Chapter 4) said, which seemed reasonable to me.
"Do you want to go sit by the church?" I asked. T shook his head.
"I wanna sit on the curb," he said. His hands were slowly spreading apart.
"Okay," I said. I started to lead him to the curb, which was a challenge as he couldn't see through his hands. I set him down on the curb, and then decided to just stay there and keep him company. There was about half a minute of awkward silence in which I wondered if he just wanted some space. Then he started to speak, lowering his hands and mumbling something about how he's gotten hit in other games before, but never in the face.
"And people say, it's just hitting you on the nose, but it hits you in the whole face," he said. I nodded and told him of some times I've been hit in the face in games before. I thought by relating I could cheer him up, but he didn't seem to be any happier for it.
J walked over and joined us and asked T how he was. T recapped what he told me and began to talk about a lot of insecurities he has when it comes to sports, particularly soccer. I related very well to this, but decided not to share all of those stories. As the tears clear up, he looked up at the sky.
"I saw the first star tonight," he said, pointing. "That one."
Digression: All throughout my childhood I met kids who said "Hey! I just saw the first star tonight!" What in tarnation do they mean by that? Sure, it's the first star you saw. Doesn't mean that there's not another star over there, or over there. Maybe you just have bad eyes. Goodness.
But this was not the time to digress, so I went along with it.
"That one?" I asked.
"No, that one."
"The one in between," said J.
"Oh, that one."
Well, that went nowhere. If anything, he was only more frustrated now. T then turned and looked at the moon, which was very bright.
"Did you know that the moon is bright because the sun is behind it?" he asked. "That's what my friend told me." I looked at J, and we decided to tell him the truth about Santa Claus - I mean, the moon.
"Actually, it's backwards," J said. "The sun is behind the Earth, and its light shines on the moon." T looks confused.
"Like, right now, the sun is up in China," I said, "and its light comes all the way around the earth to the moon, to light it up." Sorta. Comprehension began to dawn on his face.
"It's like..." J stood up and stepped in between T and I. "I'm the Earth, and you're the Moon, and Sam's the sun." I struck a glorious pose as T giggled. "His light comes around me and shines on you."
"Oh, I get it now," T said, whether in truth or just to get these two strange people to stop trying to explain science. We all laughed and T decided to join in the soccer game again. I look up at the star T pointed out and see it flickering.
"And you can see a planet because it doesn't flicker," my Dad said. This happened so long ago, all I can remember are his words. I want to say we were inside or in a car, because I wanted to apply this new knowledge soon, but couldn't at that time. Later, though, I would point out different stars that seemed to flicker less than others and ask if they were planets.
"That one?" I'd ask.
"No, it's flickering a little bit," my Dad would say.
"See? Watch it," said one of my grandfathers, who I think was there.
I remember being a little awestruck at having the ability to tell a star from a planet. After all, there were some pretty bright stars out there, and some dim planets, so brightness alone doesn't account for "planetness." I can't remember if I'd ever seen a planet with my own eyes before - I think my Dad had pointed it out to me once or twice. I wondered if I'd ever see a planet close-up with my own eyes.
There's not much that I remember about that entire incident, except what was said and the effect it had on me, one of many that planted seeds in me which would later grow into a love of astronomy and science. It's always been a treasured moment to me, and almost every time I look up at the stars I check to see if they're flickering.
About ten minutes afterward, I noticed T sitting on the curb, outside of the game. He looked a little down, so I went to go sit next to him.
"What's up?" I asked, and he sighed.
"I keep trying to be the guy who throws the ball back in when it goes out of bounds," he said, "but they never call it out of bounds." Well, of course not. They're just trying to have fun.
"Well, it's all a part of having fun to them," I said. "They're not worried so much about it, though they do want to win."
"But I can't ever get the ball," he said.
"I'm never able to get the ball either," I said. True story.
"You got the ball, like, three times today!" he said.
"Well, today's a good day," I said, as someone else passing by interjected, "More like one!" Thanks for that. We talked a little bit more about soccer, occasionally interrupted by people asking if he's okay, and telling him to get back in the game. I looked up at the sky and saw a star that didn't flicker. I had an idea, but I wasn't sure how well it'd work. It could be either helpful or disappointing.
"Wanna see something cool?" I asked. He turned to me.
"Look at that star right there," I said, pointing towards a random star. He found it quicker than I found his earlier. "Look at it. Can you see it flickering?"
"Yah," he said, sounding a little disappointed with this "cool thing." Well, I had more up my sleeve.
"Now look at that one," I said, pointing at the planet. "It isn't flickering, is it?" I decided to use the power of suggestion to my full advantage, as I didn't know how good his eyesight was.
"No," he said, his curiosity a little piqued. Maybe this would work.
"Why do you think that is?" I asked. He pondered.
"Is it because it's brighter?" he asked.
"No," I said. I could give him a few more guesses or go straight to the punchline. I decided not to waste what attention I currently had. "It's a planet." A moment of anticipating silence.
"Cool," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen a planet before." He looked at it for a few more seconds.
"And you can always tell," I said, "by whether or not it flickers."
"Cool." And he sounded like he meant it. That probably did more for me than my little factoid had done for him - that I had interested him, perhaps cheered him up a little bit, with something I myself hold dear. It was a splendid payoff.
"You wanna get back in the game?" I asked, as another barrage of kids arrived to pull us back into the game.
"Sure," T said, finally relenting.
"And now," the observatory director said, stepping out of the way of the telescope, "this is Neptune." He mentioned some tidbits of information about where the individual planets were at that point, then allowed us to start stepping up to look.
When it was my turn, I was not surprised by what I saw - more by how it affected me. A great blue orb, hovering in empty space. That blackness behind it - it's not just a convenient background; that's truly the emptiness of the cosmos. And this planet, like a shining blue ornament, hovers there, alone but not alone.
As we drove home, I learned something even more surprising.
"Neptune was my favorite part," my dad said. "I've always wanted to see it with my own eyes, but I never have."
That's another treasured memory.