Martinsville, Indiana

5 years old

The grass, wet with dew, was cold on my bare feet. I felt the mush of worm dirt on my soles. The breath of night air hung heavy, and it was quiet except for the crickets in the weeds. Dad’s hand enveloped mine as I leaned my head against his hip. We were out of the house before dawn. He wanted to show me something in the sky. We moved through the trees to find an unobstructed view. He pointed to the eastern horizon and described a collection of rising stars. I had a hard time discerning what he wanted me to see, but I listened to his description.

He said, “Orion is rising, and he’s carrying the Bird’s Road on his shoulder.”

He crouched beside me, placed his forearm against the side of my head, and told me to look along its length to where his finger extended. It took a minute, but the constellation finally revealed itself. Off its right shoulder, I saw a glowing light that arced across the diamond-studded blackness.

Dad said, “What looks like a cloud over Orion’s shoulder is The Bird’s Road. Some people say the birds use it to travel by night. Some people used to believe it’s where the soul flies when they die. I think we’ll all go there at some point. That’s where everything came from, and eventually, it’ll all find its way back.”

I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old when he introduced me to the aggregation of starlight cast through our galactic plane. That type of impromptu education came readily from my dad. As a boy, I didn’t understand most of his teaching - his words were cryptic and laced with spiritual references - and by the time I was a teen, his training made me shrink away. He had a way of using the minimum number of words at a critical point in time to peel away my clouded thoughts and sink a jewel of wisdom inside my mind. Most of these instances revolved around some trauma as if the event held a spike for him to drive home. His lessons often hurt me, but in the manner of how a tree must feel when it’s pruned after a storm or like a fowl when forced to molt by the change of season. He could tenderly counsel, but those moments were rare.

He carefully considered everything around him and enjoyed sharing his opinions. Most of his thoughts were common, but some he held close as they were too deep to fathom or were on the fringe of reason. One of those guarded suspicions was that we are all fragments of the same stone or like embers kicked from some fire at the dawn of creation. Another of his ruminations was that we’d all lived previous lives, connected by genetic memory. He dabbled in numerology and past life regression but rooted himself with a sound and intelligent mind.

He often talked about a person’s fiber and was of a mind to believe the character of an individual wasn’t original but was like a patchwork quilt, made from a multitude of life experiences.

He’d say, “If you want to understand a person - and most certainly yourself - you have to look at all the insignificant things that one’s keen to hold or do - there’s reason in the unreasonable. People and their stories are important - pay attention to them and don’t be quick to judge - they may have had a rough upbringing or suffered under the hands of others - maybe they’ve lived like a dream and have the ability to heal the world of its wounds. They will, most likely, have something to teach you. If you look close enough and think deeply enough, you’ll most likely learn it. You’ll be bettered by it.”

I didn’t need much encouragement in observing or listening. Everything was fascinating, be it light moving through a room, a dog on a trail, or how a person’s nose moved when they told a story. I enjoyed the voices around me and the way they spoke. I loved people that others liked, and the unloved bewitched me. I paid thought to the little things people mentioned in passing; like a thief, I collected their interests as my own.

Maybe this morning, he was thinking about my sisters, Garnna and Shelam. Perhaps he was thinking about his mom and dad, or what he’d lost as a boy. Maybe he was giving me a way to remember something important. I don’t believe he had any premonitions, but it was evident he felt something moving within our family, and it was as beautiful as it was horrific. It was as brilliant and as dark as the sky that night.