When you see the stars

When I was young my mom would take a 3x5 card and poke some holes into it and hand it to me.  She then said, “That is the Big Dipper.”  We then would go outside and look to the sky to find the Big Dipper.  Sometimes it was upside down and at other times it was only the tail near the horizon, but I knew what to look for because of the card.  The idea of patterns was at work and so we had several of the cards for the different constellations.  Some I have forgotten and some are only in the Northern sky, but they are there, even when I am not looking.

I am older and when I look to the sky at night in my rural home, I have an app on my phone that locates the planets and the stars and the nebula and even the constellations that I didn’t learn as a child.  It shows the satellites, and tells about them, the names of the stars and even when they were discovered and by whom.  In one way, it is a modern version of the 3x5 card, but to be certain it has made me more lazy about the remembering part of the process.  I count on the app and not my brain to do the finding…

There is an interesting thing about the patterns that I discovered some time ago that I was not aware of when I was looking for the patterns.  That the pattern and the card that showed it blocked out the stars that were not part of the pattern.  I had been missing something that was “right there” the whole time, and I had been looking right past it.  It was in plain sight and I didn’t see it at all.  There is a scientific reason for this about how the brain works when we are “focused” on something, but as an illustration there was a video about a study that was conducted to reveal this phenomenon.  It showed two groups of three people, one with white shirts and one with black shirts and they were going to bounce a basketball and your job was to count the number of passes of the ball.  When they stopped, the announcers asked if you had seen the Gorilla?  Of course, the answer was no, as you were concentrating on the bouncing ball.  They replay the clip and it shows the Gorilla stroll onto the court and beat its chest and stroll off the court.  Because the participants didn’t react to the Gorilla you were not alerted to the stranger so you kept counting so you would be correct on the number of passes. This is the same as looking at the “pattern” of the big dipper and missing the stars all around it.  We do this… a lot.

In a conversation with a stranger and their friend, I was listening to a story that they were relating and the friend blurts out, “I didn’t know that”, concerning the tale being told.  The shock was as if it was somehow a withheld secret that was lurking in the shadows of the relationship and suddenly revealed.  She had seen the pattern but not the stars behind and throughout the pattern.  We do this.  We see and quickly place people in groups, it is a survival thing of the reptilian brain part of us.  Some are better at it by training, some by experience, and some are oblivious.  Even in the following list it is about groupings; police, lawyers, doctors, accountants, salesmen, managers.  Each of these see the same event and yet see it differently because of their discipline and training.  We see what we “want to see” as well.  It is why the gorilla in the midst is missed.  We do this.  If you are good at something and see a novice struggling it may be obvious to you, like a teacher watching their pupils learn to spell or write a poem or color in the lines. 
We categorize and we miss the idea that we are doing it.  Even the list I made is missing and is all white color, a category with a hierarchy, and we miss the stars behind them.  The clerk, the nurse, bookkeeper, customer service, janitor.  We do it with clothing, vocabulary, missing teeth, hair, cars, amount of rust, part of town… we do this.  With the category comes the willingness measurement that we use to act when there is a problem.  When to help, listen, hold, accuse, revile, dismiss.  It is later that we look at the pattern and reflect that there is revealed additional stars behind the pattern.  A story alluded to but not told.  A door to a place of “more”, but it was only door not opened, merely shown.  Then you wonder what might be behind that door, and if it will open if you turn the knob.  All you know is that there is a door, until you ask.

In a conversation with a new friend I asked about the number of children he had and the answer was “Only one.  But it took three miscarriages to get that one.”  And there it was.  The stars behind the pattern, revealed in a moment of vulnerability to a person he thought might be safe enough to share a part of that story.  You see, when astronomers look to the stars and wonder what is behind and farther than the stars they see, there are more stars.  They needed to send a telescope out into space to see farther, and so the Hubble was sent.  But even then, there was a problem with the lens that was used and it needed to be corrected to see more clearly.  It is the same with us.  Sometimes we see through our own lens, and it needs some adjustment.  A correction, to bring clarity to the object in question. We do this, as well.  We see with a blurry lens that does not show what is there.  The object that looks like a star may be a nebula, to the un-aided eye and it requires some discernment and instruction to know the truth about the shiny blob that we saw.  The story behind the star, that we didn’t see because of the pattern that we did.  We need to do this.

The other thing that the people who study this stuff have found is that while they are looking for the “big Bang” that started it all, mostly they are looking for the echo of it.  A sound, written as a math equation, “seen” by a telescope and that shows up on a monitor as a wave of light.  A sound that is a pattern.  It is sometimes quiet and often very difficult to find.  Perhaps you have forgotten, but the discovery of Hawaii was because a flotilla of ships was sent into the Pacific to get to Tahiti, to measure the time it took for the planet Venus to move across the sky. On the way, Captain Cook found Hawaii.  Because of an astronomer wanting to know more. We need to take the trouble to know more about the friends we have and the ones we will make and possibly, to then let them know us better.  To discover.  To listen.  To see.  There are stars out there, if we will look.  Past the patterns that we know.  Past the noise of the local lights in town.  To get into the dark to see the lights of the stars that we have been missing.

This takes work.  It is a journey of discovery, and at times it is dangerous.  You may find things that you didn’t want to know.  That may hurt you.  Captain Cook sailed on the ship Endeavor.  It is a worthy name for our journey as well.  To Endeavor to know you better.  To venture into the unknown.  He named the island chain the Sandwich Isles, in honor of the Earl of Sandwich John Montague, the one that sponsored his trip.  We call new disciples Christians, in honor of the one who sent us, Christ.  It is a pattern, and we do this… too. 


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