so far away

When I was 13, I went to Honduras and met an incredible translator quickly turned friend. I recounted my heartbreaking goodbye to him in a previous post but left out the fact that we fought to stay in touch and, thanks to various WordPress blogs in college I created, found each other again. Turns out we were both searching each other’s names on social media and Google hoping to find some sort of digital trace of the other. At one point, I even got in touch on Facebook with a different person with the same name living in Honduras that I thought just might be him. What made this all so alarming is that I had lost contact with him after stories of mud slides surfaced (I was also paying attention to the news there) and feared he might be dead. Over 5 years passed between when we lost touch and he found me again.

He used to sign his early emails with a line like this (I don’t have access to that original email inbox anymore):

“When you think of me, look at the stars for in each one of them there is a kiss for you.”

It wasn’t meant to be romantic per say—it was purely a reflection of the closeness we felt for each other and a young persons way to connect since platonic yet deeply close friendships have fallen out of fashion. It’s also a translation of a seemingly common quote in Spanish:

“Cuando mires las estrellas acuérdate de mí porque en cada una de ellas hay un beso para ti.”

During the years when we lost touch, I memorized this line and took it to heart. During tough times, I’d find myself gazing up at the stars thinking of him and meditating in a way on that feeling of connection even at a distance. It didn’t hurt that one of my favorite bands at the time had a song dedicated to the stars too:

By the time highschool arrived, my best friend down the street and I began sneaking out of the house to bike around, lifechat, drink redbulls, eat candy (mostly just me), and do pull-ups in the early hours of the morning turned the start of the day mainly at a local park. I’d watch the stars as we did and breathe in that warm hearted feeling it gave me. In many ways, thanks to Esau (the translator friend) the stars reminded me to follow that feeling of wanting to connect with others even when (especially when) things were at their worst. It turned into an almost pavlovian response.

Over the last few days, I saw in the news and had been told by various people about the “Great Conjunction” happening with Saturn and Jupiter. I kept my expectations low upon seeing that there was overcast weather expected for Salt Lake City but made sure my camera was charged just in case. I set a few alarms for good measure knowing that it’s far too easy these days for time to slip away from me.

Around 5:30pm my final alarm went off and I was mid typing up something important. The words my granddad shared before he died echoed through my mind: “Don’t work too much”. I closed my computer, lazily threw on a warm jacket, and grabbed my camera before slowly walking up the 6 flights of stairs to the roof.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there. Would there be a crowd and would it feel safe? Would this be another wonder to witness and report back on to loved ones? For a while, I was the only one up there. I snapped photos of the city marveling at a view I had never had before as I had been avoiding the rooftop after seeing too many similarly aged people flaunting COVID restrictions.

Before any sadness could settle in around the idea of being the only witness on this rooftop, I heard an excited voice behind me. He was carrying roses and jumped right into conversation with me as if we had planned to meet up at this exact spot. He had a bedazzled face mask and we both subtly nodded to each other (and likely smiled under our masks) about our mutual queerness. He was there to spread roses on the ground for a friend before they were about to propose in about an hour. It was refreshingly romantic to hear about and to see a friend do for another.

“Maybe it’s not dark enough yet, you know?” I roughly pointed where I thought we might be able to see it before another voice chimed in from behind us. An older man had climbed the stairs too to see if he might be able to catch a glimpse before telling the rest of his family to join.

We collectively stared out into the seemingly empty night sky ironically trying to make sense of something beyond our comprehension. My new bedazzled mask friend pulled out his phone to show an app he had that helps you track the stars and planets. “It should show up right around there”, as he pointed the planets appeared as if we had somehow summoned them to show themselves. We gasped and squealed in our own ways. My two companions quickly began calling people telling them to witness the view. I tried to snap pictures before recognizing how impossible this was to capture with my little camera with hardly any zoom. At the least, you can see just how bright it was below:

At one point, we wondered aloud about the people who last saw this view. What were their problems? What did they think it was? What was going on in their lives? We agreed that everything felt so small in comparison. It’s like we could feel how short our existences were in that moment and the hope that perspective can provide. We shared a bit about why each of us were interested in the stars including the wife of the older man who had joined us. She talked about how her father used to bring them outside as kids to watch various night time happenings and nearly forcing appreciation upon them long before they could understand what they were seeing. She had done the same with her kids including bringing them out in the depths of winter to lie down on the snow covered roof to stargaze. “Perhaps the kids will be able to see this again in their lifetimes in 2080”, the woman casually remarked. That kind of generational thinking was so refreshing to hear during a time when trying to plan a week ahead seems daunting. My bedazzled mask friend shared that he heard from someone deep in astrology that this was a time of resetting and I loved the idea of that sentiment. It felt impossible to leave and reminded me so much of that feeling I had at the World Cup Finals last year where I desperately wanted to soak in every single damn moment of that game knowing it was futile.

Before I returned to my apartment, I thanked everyone there for sharing in that moment as a group and told them how much it meant to me especially this year. We could have just as easily enjoyed it separately but instead somehow naturally came together to celebrate what we were witnessing. It felt as though we had tapped into something so uniquely human by doing so—something humans have been doing for centuries and I hoped would continue to do so in the future.

I stared at planets last night in a potentially once in a lifetime moment considering I’d have to survive to 87 to see it again. I thought generationally for the first time in a long time and I did so with my fellow humans during a time when humanity feels frayed. Somehow staring at something so far away made everything and everyone else not feel so far away too.

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