Memorial Spaceflights

Nancy Hanks Tappan

"You are the star stuff we are made of."

4 am. I rise from my light sleep. Was it a nightmare that served as my alarm today? It doesn’t really matter as I am grateful to wake up with enough time to view my favorite scene: “The galactic show.” You see, the stars are most crisp a few hours before dawn, and no two performances are the same. I’m not a scientist by degree, but I can name every constellation and galaxy. My favorite features are the black holes. I often theorized they are “star nurseries.” That their internal chaos gives birth to the universe's life fueling stars. The brightest ones are often tossed around more than the others, then spit out as one of a kind gems across the Milky Way. Today I’ll text each of my four unique gems, my children and their children, and my beloved sister before tea this afternoon. I will remind them to “drink plenty of water today.” The sky begins to lighten and the stars cling to the top of the globe. I can’t see them through my window but I know they are there.

I walk past one of my 3D black hole paintings as I enter the living room of my peaceful apartment. The other 8 are with Stephen Hawking at Cambridge. I still can’t believe he has one hung up behind his desk. I may not speak in physics equations, but my art understands their numbers all the same. As I put the kettle on for my breakfast “Butterfly Tea '' I ponder what I’ll research about the mangrove trees for my thesis at George Washington University. It's hard to believe that I will be awarded this on my deathbed by the Urban Planning and Development department just days before I pass away. I realized one day that I loved learning, and that it didn’t matter what my age was. I spent my entire life taking good care of my family and decided to do something else for myself. I went back to college, the University of Virginia, at the same time as my daughter.

As I sit down on my couch in front of my small balcony a bluebird lands on the feeder “Shelly”. The early bird. Only a short distance away a squirrel “Mr. Buckets,” lounges completely flat on her belly. She beat the birds to the feeder and was stuffed. I recently found out she was a female when she brought her little babies with her. Her name had already stuck. I’ve always had a safe haven from the hawks on my plant-filled small balcony shrine; birds, chippies, and squirrels, and newts all living in harmony. And I’ve always loved nature. I am most happy camping rather than not. And I enjoy touching the noses of the deer as they approach my silent figure in the woods. My giant Californian Rabbit “Bigbee'' sits in a bread loaf shape in front of the sliding glass door. She will come up on the couch with me later for pets, but for now she is enjoying watching the 5 am birds sing, and contemplating when I will gift her an apricot.

It is quiet. My heart beats weakly, but it is so strong. I know.

As time passes I think of the universe, and how I am but a small grain of sand atop a pyramid in the Grand Design. No matter how much pain we go through, this fact is reassuring: We are here to participate in an experience. What we see with our eyes is not as real as what we know with our hearts; the part connecting all living things on this planet, and almost assuredly all over space. I’ve always believed that all of the answers to the Infinite Intelligence can be found right here on Earth. I see it everyday in nature and my family. As the world wakes with the Sun I rejoice in knowing that although I can’t see them right now, the stars are performing above me.

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