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When the planets stop by for coffee

Venus and Jupiter shine like huge stars in the sky tonight, but I am not impressed. Sam pointed them out to me as we stood in the driveway.

“The last time we saw them this close was when we lived up north,” he said. I was pleased he remembered, since it was so long ago. Then again, how could he forget? He was only 5, but Sam was really into the solar system at that time. Every day he drew a picture of it, each planet to scale and in its appropriate position to the sun.

One evening, our neighbor from down the road called. “Have you looked outside?” she asked.

"No, not really."

"Well, take the kids out into the yard. You can see Venus and Jupiter.”

I was a single mom living in the woods. At night after Sam and Grace were in bed, my habit was to sit out on the front porch and look up at the stars, smoke my sole cigarette of the day, and pick out a star from the sky. The star, I imagined, was my lost daughter, Madeline, winking at me from above.

“Just look up,” my neighbor said, laughing. “There’s no missing them.”

I ventured into the dark yard with Sam and Grace. We looked up. There were two giant planets, Venus a little closer than Jupiter. They did not look like twinkling stars. They appeared as big, bold neighbors who happened to be planets, out for a stroll around the block. We could see their surfaces, the texture, the striations of color. A few feet lower and to the left, and Venus might have scraped the roof of our barn. These were not the perfect circles of Sam’s solar-system diagrams, or far-away orbs that might be mistaken for bright stars. They were the existence of God, the undeniable reality of something greater, bigger than the stars, in our own back yard.
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