Thursday, July 21, 2016

John Riminton

The stars were magnificent.

Philip leaned back, absorbed in their beauty, wishing that he could understand their secrets but the maths were impossible.

A 43 year old bachelor, Philip was a trained aid-worker, used to tragedies but he had recently flown back to New Zealand physically and emotionally exhausted by the misery in remote Nepalese villages devasted by the earthquakes. The suffering there had been horrific - familes and villages wiped out as avalanches had swept down the mountains; water supplies disrupted; communications almost impossible while the rest of the world had been scarcely aware of the disaster.

Back in New Zealand he had sought a break in the most peaceful place that he could imagine, up in the Alps near the St. John Observatory. It had proved a good choice, at least for him, though he wondered how a haze-blighted townee would react to the silence and the star-filled sky. It was quite possible that many townees had never seen a star.

He recalled, as a lad, reading a short story about a planet with three suns that only set together on some multi-millennial cycle so that many generations had no experience of darkness. Came the part of the cycle when they all set. Terrified by darkness and the glow from countless points of light for which they had no name, the people panicked in terror, convinced that their world was ending. Lucky that it got dark every 24 hours on Earth.

It was the remoteness of the firmament that so awed him. What was the nearest star to the sun – Alpha something, over 4 light years away? Philip didn't even know how to write so many zeros while conceptualising them was impossible – and that was the nearest. Having spent some time in remote parts of the world where fire, in its various forms, was the only source of light, he could understand the fascination of the night sky for the earliest civilisations, able to to observe the movements of the planets and believing that those movements must have some effect on their lives – why not - when some years the harvest was good, others bad with accidents and illnesses inexplicable daily events. How could the individual feel other than insignificant and manipulated by unseen forces in the face of such magnificence?

He wondered who had originally thought that outstanding people and performances should be acknowledged as "Stars". Very appropriate.

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