I sometimes think in terms of the observable, the familiar, what I can see and experience…the coming dusk, the first few stars, the reddish western horizon remind me of Earth’s atmosphere, the different layers.
But beyond this, unseen, lies more; the infinite cosmos. In particular, today I got thinking about the heliopause, the edge of the solar system, somewhat akin to the top of our atmosphere. It’s an uneasy boundary area, a balance of power…a sphere, a shell, where the outward-flowing solar wind from the sun exactly balances the relentless inward pressure of interstellar outer space. This boundary area is not close; it took Voyager 1 thirty-five years, traveling at 38,000 mph, to cross it and enter interstellar space.
I was thinking about all this as I met my oldest, Kristen for breakfast today.
It was good to catch up. She filled me in on her last day of employment; her “last summer” before pursuing her Master’s in Counseling; her upcoming wedding. We talked about everything, nothing, the mundane and the piercingly sublime. With a mouthful of pancakes, it suddenly struck me that it was though I was having breakfast with Pop, with a strange role transformation…I was Pop yet Kristen was also me. I realized that our relationship had crossed the heliopause between the last vestiges of childhood and adulthood. Just as Pop and I had evolved from father and son to buddies sitting under a shade tree with a few cold ones on a summer afternoon, Kristen and my relationship had at some undefined point had passed a boundary. We are still father and daughter, but we are now also fully fledged friends hurtling together through outer space. There is nothing we can’t jawbone.
This new relationship is somewhat bittersweet. It means the days of babyish babble, coloring books, bikes with training wheels…then Barbie dolls, a growing interest in boys and make up, her first car, high school, and finally days of college with gowns and mortarboards in the air…are gone. The kite string has been severed; she is on her own. But, like Pop, I’m still honored to be her sounding board, to offer advice when asked, to provide a perspective from life much further down the road. I am her trusted consigliere, the keeper of her secrets, the partner to inside jokes that only we understand.
After the heliopause, there’s nothing but the vastness of interstellar space. If and when the day comes when my daughter becomes a mother, I’ll be completely compass-less, navigating by the stars. But I think–as in all things—this next chapter will be OK. It will be as Max Ehrmann penned in his famous poem Desiderata:
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
No doubt, indeed.