The Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks August 11-12, 2017

A brief message from Charlotte, Madeleine’s granddaughter.

Dear Ones,

The Perseid meteor shower occurs annually in August when the earth crosses the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Anywhere from 60 to 150 shooting stars an hour are visible during the peak nights in August. I’m often up at Crosswicks at some point during the showers, and I always try to stay up late and hope to see the shooting stars. I usually don’t see many. It’s a running joke in my family that as they shout, “Oh, there’s one!” I wail “Where?” and swivel my head this way and that. But just being able to sit outside on a summer evening and take in a vast expanse of sky and stars is wonderful. I always think of my grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle, whenever I look up at night. For her, stars were “an icon of creation,” meaning that they helped her trust in God’s love and the significance of an interconnected universe.

“If I’m confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I’ll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It’s not that they make me feel insignificant; it’s the very opposite; they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there’s meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless.” A Ring of Endless Light

Her first memory was of being woken up and taken outside to look at the stars, and her awe and joy at that vision was something that never left her. She wrote about them in her first novel, A Small Rain, and the impact of her first view of stars is embedded some way in every book since. Stars and their perspective-giving quality feature prominently in several Austin Family books, and in her non-fiction as well. And of course, in A Wrinkle in Time, beloved Mrs Whatsit turns out to have been a star who overcame the darkness if only for a little while.

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness.The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared.The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. Then, slowly, the shining dwindled until it, too, was gone, and there was nothing but stars and starlight. No shadows. No fear. Only the stars and the clear darkness of space, quite different from the fearful darkness of the Thing.
“You see!” the Medium cried, smiling happily. “It can be overcome! It is being overcome all the time!”
A Wrinkle in Time

My grandmother lamented decades ago that it was getting harder and harder to see the stars. Even from Crosswicks the view has changed: towns are bigger, with more light pollution, and the old star-watching rock reclaimed by forest. (A brief history of the star-watching rocks is for another day.) The discoloration of inky blue-black caused by the cloudy swath of the milky way is more faint now, too. But the stars are there, even when we can’t see them. It reminds me of this exchange between mother and daughter in A Wrinkle in Time:

“Do you think things always have an explanation?
“Yes. I believe that they do. But I think that with our human limitations we’re not always able to understand the explanations. But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.”
A Wrinkle in Time

So, when you can, look up and contemplate the night sky, even if the stars aren’t full visible from your particular vantage point. Take a moment and, like Vicky Austin, regain your sense of proportion and renew the thought that your choices and actions matter.

Charlotte Jones Voiklis
New York City
August 2017