Being small (in which the Perseid meteor shower and Indiana corn give perspective)

By all accounts, last night was the peak viewing time for the Perseid Meteor shower (per here and here and here and here and a hundred other places). I would give almost anything to see a real Mrs. Whatsit, Coriakin, or Ramandu for even just a split second*. Since that’s unlikely (in this lifetime at least), a meteor shower seemed like a good option. So we set the alarm for 2:00 a.m., climbed into the pickup with our pillows, blankets, and dog, and headed north on 43 in search of glory.

Mostly, we found corn.

Meteor Corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Meteor Corn (Photo: CKirgiss)

To be fair, corn is a glory of Indiana, and I surely do glory in it as much as any other devoted Midwesterner.

Regular Corn (Photo: CMartin)
Regular Corn (Photo: CMartin)

Fact: corn makes me feel small.

Even with my arms stretched to the sky, I am dwarfed by those solemn stalks of jade leaves drooping gracefully towards the earth below and those delicate tassels of filagreed gold reaching elegantly towards the sky above. All of that majestic height – row after row after row sweeping across the endless countryside – is stunning not just for its immensity but also for its unexpected smallness; each of those towering stalks gives birth to a single ear of corn (twins and triplets occur sometimes).

One ear of corn. All of that height and hugeness and majesty for just one ear.

It’s ludicrous in a way. What a (seeming) waste of plant.

Which brings me back to the Perseid meteor shower that (by all accounts) peaked here in corn-covered Indiana last night.

We laid in the truck bed, wrapped against the chill (and also against the hard plastic of the truck liner made of dent- and scratch-resistant plastic molded into an innovative ribbed design – or: bad for the back), eyes wide open, prepared for glory, waiting for majesty.

Here’s the thing about glory and majesty: you can’t capture it in words, or in a photo, or in the largest corner of your mind, because words and photos and large corners of the mind are too small to speak or see or comprehend glory and majesty.

Fact: the night sky – even without a meteor shower – makes me feel small.

Even though I can block out a large swath of invincible lights with my outstretched hand and can compress infinity behind my closed eyes, I am dwarfed by that canopy of heavens reaching down to the earth’s firm edge and soaring up to the sky’s endless cosmos. All of that incomprehensible magnitude  – layer after layer after layer sweeping across the endless universe – is stunning mostly for its immensity but also for its unexpected smallness: many of the meteor shower particles dragging streams of trailing light behind them are the size of a pea – as in the vegetable that is much much smaller than a stalk of corn.

How can this be? How can a speck of dust stream across the night sky in a blaze of energy that makes you catch your breath and clasp your hands for the sheer beauty and unexpected joy that it brings?

That is me. A speck of dust. Tumbling through life, tossed here and there, one of 7 billion souls on the planet, desperately seeking a way to blaze across the sky – not in fame or renown or majesty, but in glory – not the glory of self but the glory of the Almighty.

There are (by all accounts) 1 octillion stars in the night sky. That’s 1 plus 29 zeros. Try to fathom that for a minute. Words and pictures and thoughts can’t begin to compute such an incomprehensible number. Even 7 billion (which has only 9 zeros and which [by all accounts] is how many people currently live on this tiny ball of earth) is beyond my ability to compute.

So sit in this truth for a moment or a day: each and every one of those 1 octillion stars is named, known, and placed. Each and every one. Surely God has enough on his universe-sized hands to consider small and paltry us not worth his time.

Now sit in this truth for a moment or a lifetime: when He considers the night sky, the work of His own fingers, the moon and stars He set in place, He considers them as nothing compared to small and paltry us. Nothing. Nothing.

New math rule 1:

7 billion people > 1 octillion stars.

New math rule 2:

1 single soul > 1 octillion stars.

Sit in that for a bit and see how it stirs up your soul.

*A Wrinkle in Time and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Read them. Now