I have been an obnoxious person. If I have learned nothing else in life, at least I learned that lesson.
When I was 15 I was presented with a prize on my school’s speech day. It was a book on astronomy, how I won it, I have no recall. What I recall is going to one of the teachers afterwards, brusquely commenting “This is no good to me”, and handing the book back.
Even at the time it was considered stupid and arrogant. My classmates, whom I must have thought would have been impressed, looked at me with puzzlement. “Ginger” Stephens said, “What did you do that for?” Meeting my parents to leave for home when I had collected my bags, my mother asked me what the book was, I felt stupid telling her that I had given it back.
Ever since that moment, the mention of astronomy has stirred feelings of guilt.
The idea of astronomy has always fascinated me, the confrontation of infinity seemed a far more significant thing to do than the worldly preoccupations of most people. Who cares who has won Big Brother when even being President of the United States is a totally insignificant and trivial matter? But every time I looked at one of those astronomy books, it took me back to that moment in 1975.
Receiving a small legacy earlier this year, I tried to decide how to spend it. I wanted to buy something significant because the money had come from someone who was very significant for me. Finally, I decided what I would buy, something that would be about significant things – last Saturday, I bought a telescope.
Last night, at 11 pm, there was the first clear sky for days. I still hadn’t a clue how to use the thing, but I got the telescope out into the back yard and just pointed it at anything I saw. A single light in the sky turned out to be two lights – one a pale red and the other white. It had taken forty-five minutes to get that far, (I discovered that I had fitted upside down the little scope on the side of the telescope with which you are meant to line it up so as to see things!).
I went inside to drink my hot chocolate contentedly. I had seen something, I had no idea what, but infinity had been confronted, and, more to the point, the ghost of speech day 1975 had been laid.