"Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?" I asked pensively. I received no immediate response. They were too astonished to reply, awestruck by the picturesque vista that lay stretched out around them. The inquiry seemed to suspend in the air for an eternity.
Finally released from her trance, my girlfriend Kasey answered first. "This is incredible, Frank," she rejoined. "I'm astonished how bright it is. I can't believe we're only experiencing this now at twenty-one years old. But it's as magnificent as I had always imagined."
"Isn't it, though?" I replied. "You can actually see the Milky Way."
Jason and Kathleen remained speechless. They lay on the soft grass next to Kasey and me, marveling at the twinkling canvas above. I had never felt vulnerable to the universe until now as I lay in the darkness of this open field because until now the universe had never truly existed. Now, it was unrestrained; now, it was almost palpable.
It happened that my girlfriend and I, along with two of our closest friends, resolved to make the great trek to Cherry Springs, Pennsylvania, which I heard was one of the finest sites in the Eastern United States for dark-sky astronomical viewing. As we were from Southern New Jersey, an unblemished nighttime sky was incomprehensible to us. After all of these years, I thought, the nighttime sky was at best a familiar stranger to me. But on this night, it showcased itself in all its splendor.
As the vivid gases of the Milky Way floated whimsically above my head like luminous clouds, I rose abruptly to my feet. The three turned over on the grass and looked at me in anticipation.
"Let's look through the telescope and see what we can find," I said eagerly. At home, nebulae and galaxies were mere hazy masses through my eight-inch Dobsonian. I had a good feeling, however, that things would look a bit more striking here.
With Kasey standing beside me, I aimed my telescope towards the direction of the Andromeda Galaxy. I had always wanted to see the brilliant spiral galaxy in its unabated glory, but light pollution constantly ruined my chances.
As I patiently scanned the heavens, the stunning spiral abruptly popped into view. There was the magnificent Andromeda Galaxy, seemingly just out of reach!
Then, unexpectedly a mixture of emotions welled up inside me. I controlled them momentarily, but I could not repress them any longer. I turned to Kasey, who awaited her turn next to me.
"Do you think he can see this, too?" I asked. A tear rolled down my cheek.
"Who's that, dear?" she answered gently. Concerned, she studied my face with deep sympathy. She knew what I was about to say.
"Daddy," I answered.
"Oh, Frank," she replied sadly, and hugged me consolingly. "I'm sure he can. In fact, I bet he's smiling down at you right now. He wouldn't miss this for the universe."