On the night of December 21st, I stood out in my garden and looked up at the brightest star in the heavens. Of course it wasn’t really a star, it was the convergence of two planets — Jupiter and Saturn — an event which hadn’t happened in 800 years and won’t happen again until 2080. It coincided with the Winter Solstice. It coincided with the coming of Christmas and, in fact, this convergence has been called the Christmas Star because of the belief that this meeting of two planets led the Wise Men to the manger where Jesus was born.

I loved that story when I was a child. There were color images of it in my Sunday School Bible — men in robes standing in the desert looking up at a gleaming star in the night sky, ready to be guided by it. I thought a lot about stars when I was a child. My father showed me the North Star and said if I was ever lost, it would show me where north was so I could get my bearings. He told me about sailors lost at sea who found their way home by following the North Star. He told me about Orion and Pegasus, although I could never see them completely because the wash of city lights obscured them. But I knew they were there. By the age of eight I could find the Big Dipper in a matter of seconds.

Stars were what I thought of when I felt lost and alone at home, when tensions between me and my mother made the house feel stormy and a bit frightening. I imagined Orion striding across the heavens, three bright stars on his belt. I thought of the North Star, placed there to guide lost souls. I thought of the Star of Bethlehem that led men to the birth of Jesus. I was a nearsighted kid, but I was always squinting up to the heavens trying to read the stars.

It seems fitting that at the end of such a terrible year, with so much loss and death and grief, a star would appear in the heavens and we would be encouraged to walk outside and look up. I don’t know when things will get better, when the ravages of this pandemic will ease and we’ll be able to breathe a bit easier. No one knows the answer to that. But maybe the stars that ask us to look up are also asking us to look within, to believe that we can be guided to something better within ourselves, that we can find a bright light in the darkness. I think now about the young girl I once was, sneaking outside at night to sit in the yard with our dog and look up at the stars, and I remember feeling that the troubles inside my home had suddenly moved farther away. There was a vast sky above me; there was the mystery of planets and the guidance of stars and somehow that seeped into me, let me believe that there was more inside me that I needed to search for.

It’s hard to look past a world in which so many are suffering and dying alone, where too many are going hungry and facing homelessness. But maybe that’s why this convergence of planets happened right now — to remind us to look up, to look within, and ask for a star to guide us.


  1. Roman says:

    everything in life is wonderful

  2. Joy kim says:

    Happy New Year Patti. You write honestly. My mother was also scary to me & I frequently had to walk on eggshells.

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