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Venus approaches the Pleiades star cluster on 31 March 2012

Venus approaches the Pleiades star cluster on 31 March 2012
(c) Jimmy Westlake

I was out walking the dog around my neighborhood tonight, and I happened to notice that Venus looked particularly bright.  Upon a closer look, I noticed that she was so bright, that there were teeny, tiny pin pricks of stars around her that I didn’t think I had ever seen before.  I felt like I was getting a peek into another galaxy, maybe even another dimension.  Beautiful.

I came home and told my husband about what I saw.  I told him, “You should go look – it’s really cool,” all the time having no idea what it was I was looking at, just knowing that I had witnessed something special.

A few minutes later, I was checking my Facebook account, when I came across this article, posted by one of my friends:


The article described what I saw better than I can:

“NASA says there will be a beautiful and rare spectacle in the sky Tuesday night when the bright planet Venus appears to move directly in front of the Pleiades star cluster just after sunset, above the western horizon …

“The Pleiades are elusive. You rarely find them on purpose. They’re best seen out of the corner of your eye, a pretty little surprise that pops out of the night sky when you’re staring elsewhere …

… Because of their distance, about 400 light years away, the Pleiades are near the limit of naked-eye visibility. When Venus joins them in conjunction, it will look like a supernova has gone off inside the cluster. Venus’s thick clouds reflect so much sunlight, the planet outshines every thing in the night sky except the Moon. Strangely, though, the Pleiades do not look puny in comparison, just delicately beautiful.”

Delicately beautiful.  I tried to take a picture, but my camera failed me, so I am posting the one from the article here, although this photo was taken a few days earlier.  When I looked tonight, Venus was ever-so-slightly to the left of Pleiades, making the cluster of tiny stars look like a peephole outlined in blue diamonds.  Words fail.  “Delicately beautiful” does some justice.

The article also states that this phenomenon only happens once every eight years. Whenever I see some kind of natural spectacle, one that makes me catch my breath and gives me a shiver, I can’t help but wonder if I am supposed to glean something beyond what it is offering just my senses.  The sight of it was certainly beautiful.  The clear, crisp air of the evening with the fresh smells of spring that have come to my neighborhood this week with newly mowed grass and blooming early blossoms added to the experience.  So did the quiet of the night interrupted only by the sound of the Peeper frogs.  But I am often moved to think about what else moments such as these may have to offer in terms of how I am making sense of my life at any given time.  These moments often feel like a message to me – I just quiet myself a bit and listen, and usually, some cool insight will occur to me.

My initial thoughts about how this event translates in my life…

Simply put: I am grateful I had the opportunity to notice it.  Sometimes I rush so much through the routines of my day, I forget to just slow down and notice that there are little miracles happening all around me all the time.  They don’t stop happening just because I stop noticing, which means that when I am busy running around like a chicken with its head cut off to make sure my work gets done by an impossible deadline, or if I dedicate the day to laundry and cleaning and grocery shopping and making dinner (my husband is thinking, “When does THAT happen??” right about now), I may be missing something great that I don’t necessarily have to miss.

I often tell myself that work will always be there, but my kids will not always be small.  The dinner dishes will still be there tomorrow, no worse for wear, if we decide to go play baseball after dinner with the kids instead of washing them right away.  I am sure we can find SOMETHING for each of us to wear on any given day if I decide to play Scrabble with my son instead of doing the laundry on the most efficient schedule.  And even when I’m tired, and it’s been a long day, or a long week, or both, I always go to sing on Thursday nights, and I am never sorry.

I have gotten much better in recent years at finding balance in this way – balance between work and motherhood, and wife-hood, and girl-friend-hood, and me-hood, too, for that matter.  Music, writing, exercise, time with my husband, time with my kids, time with my friends, my work – these are all important to me – and when I give them all their due, they make me feel balanced and peaceful and happy.  However, when one takes over and creates a big imbalance, I am not a happy camper.  The stars all have to be aligned, so to speak.  A-ha 😉

One such miracle to be noticed during my practice of slowing down and not missing things is acts of kindness between my children.  The stars and planets must have truly aligned this week for my son to offer “baseball lessons” to his little sister.  I have been thinking lately that I really need to try to change gears with my son, to try to “catch him being good” more often.  Sometimes when he is teasing his sister incessantly, it feels like instances of kindness toward her are more rare than Venus crossing the Pleiades, if you know what I mean.  However, I usually do find that if I can take a deep breath and try really hard not to yell too much, if I reboot my thinking and start catching him when he is doing something great rather than being all over him for nudging his sister, the momentum can change.  He picks up on the positive reinforcement, and may just stop torturing his sister, at least for the time being (particularly if there’s something in it for him, like ice cream or extra video game time).  I just have to take the time to notice.  Which is also much easier to do when everything is balanced and the stars and planets align.

The message, then, is the same one I get a lot: Slow down, people.  Take some deep breaths and see the good stuff that is happening around you every day.  Take a break and swing on a star whenever you can.