Starstruck: my experience watching meteor showers

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For nearly every day of the past two years, I have been up after midnight. But I never considered heading outside to watch a meteor shower. I’m the type of person who prefers warm beds over just about everything, and also needs multiple jackets just to stay warm in 60 degree weather. Yet the weekend before school started two years ago, I abandoned my warm bed to lie on the cold concrete driveway, staring at a blank sky. Simple curiosity had driven me to watch the Perseids meteor shower, which more or less always takes place the weekend before the new school year starts.

After watching it that first time, I decided to watch it again this past summer. For me, the meteor shower has become a grand finale of sorts before school started, a peaceful way to end the summer — a way to put the upcoming school year in perspective. It reminded me how large the universe is, and how trivial a test grade actually is, regardless of how daunting that test seems. And now as school finally starts to make me feel burnt out, I miss the feeling that watching those meteor showers gave me. Thankfully enough, both the North Taurid and Leonids meteor showers peak soon — the North Taurid on the night of Nov. 11 and the Leonids on the night of Nov. 17 — and I think it’s about time that I watch another meteor shower.

stars

Illustration by Ilena Peng

The first time I watched the Perseids shower, I didn’t expect to see anything. I forgot the cold soon enough, and the stars that streaked by every so often seemed to push time along — I just kept sitting there to wait for one more. I am not a patient person by nature, and although I will not aggressively bother others who are working “slow,” by my definition, I do get frustrated at my own unproductivity.

Oddly enough, I never considered watching meteor showers during the school year, even though I still stayed up as late as I did in the summer. Amidst MVHS’ stressful culture, I’d always felt that going outside equated with being unproductive. Even though I may have just been watching Tasty videos when I was indoors, at least I could pretend to myself that I had been studying for that one test.

But there’s something else too — that meteor shower provides me with perspective. I’ve always felt that meteor showers shouldn’t be called showers. The word “showers” implies that the meteors will shoot across the sky generously, which is not the case. The North Taurid meteor shower is only supposed to have half a dozen meteors per hour. That reality sounds a lot sadder than the images of star-streaked skies that I initially imagined.

As pathetic as half a dozen meteors per hours sounds, the reality of seeing a meteor is indescribable. It made me hyperaware that at MVHS, our obsession with textbooks almost resembles worship. A major exam feels like a matter of life of death, and a poor grade puts us in tears. We don’t really second-guess that type of thinking — it’s the norm for us. But to be able to see the textbook term “meteors” come to life makes the universe feel massive, and me, incredibly small. To put it in simpler terms, it reminded me that there are better things in this world than grades.

While our school’s class periods pass remarkably slowly, the reality is that the months themselves blur by remarkably fast. MVHS is not a place that allows any of us to slow down. We are students accustomed to a culture that never stops moving — we don’t allow ourselves nearly the number of breaks that we should be taking. In the weeks that follow, I plan on lying down on my driveway again, just so I can remember that there is a world beyond the indoor confines of learning and studying in our classrooms, bedrooms and libraries.

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About Author

Ilena Peng is a third year staff member and one of two editors-in-chief for El Estoque.