Tuesday, April 17, 2007

AT: A Storm on Jupiter

Shortly after moving into my neighborhood, I met the woman who lives across the street. Ellen was warm and friendly, willing to engage in pleasant small talk. If I hadn’t known better, I might not have noticed the sadness--and a certain inner strength--that emanated from her.

But another neighbor had already filled me in. Ellen had lost her daughter on 9/11. Mother and daughter exchanged their last words by phone even as the plane sank down toward a Pennsylvania field.

During my brief conversation with Ellen, I just kept thinking about the storm on Jupiter.

See, we’ve known about Jupiter for a long time. It’s visible to the naked eye, so the ancient astronomers could look up and see the planet shining in the night sky. They knew it was there, but they didn’t know very much about it.

By 1665, stargazers could look through a telescope and see that a huge red spot was hovering over Jupiter’s surface. No one knew what the red spot was, though, because there was simply no way of zooming in on the planet to uncover its secrets.

But in 1979 Voyager 1 got close enough to take pictures. Only then did we learn that the spot is a cyclonic storm that, according to one theory, may have begun when an asteroid crashed into the planet. The storm is two to three times the size of earth with winds that reach 270 miles per hour. That’s one good-sized tempest, but as I say, before Voyager 1 we simply had no way to see it.

So what do my neighbor and the storm on Jupiter have to do with each other? Let me try to explain by first saying something about history and stories.

In high school history class, I was more inclined to pass notes to my friends than listen to the lecture on some long-ago and seemingly irrelevant event. I love history now, but I didn’t know it then. Somehow I couldn’t make the connection between events and people. I didn’t understand that the larger happenings intersected with individual lives in such a way as to make any sort of real impact. So we fought a civil war--so what? So the stock market crashed in 1929--so what? So we had to sweat it out when something was going on in the Bay of Pigs, wherever that was. So how many more minutes till class is over?

History told me what happened, but left me too far away to feel anything. I could see the events, but I couldn’t see the stories. I could memorize dates and places and numbers, but I couldn’t connect with the people. And I sure couldn’t peer into that place where most of life is lived out--inside the hearts and minds and spirits of men and women.

God bless historians, because we need them. But for me, sitting in history class was like standing under the night sky looking up at some distant planet. In the end, that tells me little about Jupiter.

What I needed then, and still need, is a Voyager to pick me up and carry me to the planet so I can experience what it’s all about. If I can see how big that storm is, maybe reach out a hand and just get an idea of the strength of the wind, then I’ll know the wonder and the mystery of that strange planet.

Writers--the storytellers of the world--are the Voyagers that carry me and you to the hidden places. That is, past the events and into the inner workings of people where the real stories are going on--into their thoughts, their fears, their brokenness, their faith. Writers show us the storms that spring up at the point where world events intersect human lives, sometimes with the force of an asteroid hitting a planet.

So now, what do my neighbor and Jupiter have to do with each other? The events of 9/11 are Jupiter. Grief and perseverance and faith are the storm that erupted within one individual when 9/11 collided with my neighbor’s life. A history book might give us the facts and the numbers, and we need that. But stories like Ellen’s take us to the planet itself, even inside the storm, to the place of trial and courage, hope and faith, and as creatures who are nurtured on the unseen, we need that even more.

Ann Tatlock is discoverable at her web page, http://www.anntatlock.com/ .


Post a Comment

<< Home