March 29, 2013
As far as I know, there were no deaths when the school-bus sized meteor rained fireballs and stirred up a massive shock wave in the atmosphere over central Russia. That’s a huge relief. I’ve seen videos that were captured–that was no puny asteroid. As I watched the news reports, I was reminded of another amazing celestial event, one that I witnessed decades ago. Come to think of it, it was served up from that same side of the planet.
It happened on a warm and carefree August evening. The year was 1986. The setting was far out in Kenton County, Kentucky. Out past where the city water supply flowed. Out past where the bright lights glowed. When it got dark, it got dark. Dark enough, in fact, that the kids and I finally had to call our beloved backyard wiffleball game. We so cherished the sport that our games ended only after the person gifted with the best night vision of the four of us (hint: not me) would relent and spare the rest of us any more eyestrain.
The outside adventures weren’t over that night, though. Not even close. We moved on to the all-important postgame activities. My first move was to answer the call of my favorite lawn chair. I was bushed from chasing the plastic projectiles that the kids had whacked unmercifully over my head. I was pleasantly surprised when Mark, six at the time and responsible for much of the whacking, was tired enough to pull up his chair and sit beside his ole dad.
The smoke from the locust logs burning on our campfire drifted by, lulling me into a state of relaxation after our lively game. Matt and Jami, Mark’s two siblings, were busy scorching marshmallows over the glowing coals for our s’mores. Mark and I turned our chairs to the east, the fire behind us so as not to affect our vision. While Mark and I waited for our sticky treats, we gazed at the blanket of brilliant stars hung on the backdrop of a darkening blue-black night sky.
Between yawns, Mark requested a story. He must have forgotten that the last few tales had been a little thin. Or else he didn’t care. Whatever the reason, on that almost magical night I could hardly disappoint. I surveyed the tall hill before us, bare since the neighboring farmer had just harvested some hay. It was on that very hill that I “landed” an imaginary spaceship (friendly of course) from which curious aliens walked down to join us for some good old-fashioned earth s’mores. After all, we had plenty extra. Mark was buying this yarn a little more than I had expected. He decided that, even though our visitors meant no harm, he preferred to beam over to Dad’s lap. Just fine with me.
Distant lights from planes, satellites, and shooting stars added some great special effects to my tale, but who would have imagined what we were about to see next, something almost beyond our imagination. A huge fireball streaked across the eastern sky, seemingly a hundred times brighter than all the other lights, illuminating the hill and adding more drama than I could have conjured up in a thousand stories.
Since this was the ’80s, no cell phone cameras were at our fingertips to capture the image. Neither was there Internet on which to Google what had just happened. We just figured it must have been the flash of the engines of the spaceship heading home (full of smiling aliens with their triangular faces still smudged with chocolate and marshmallow).
Matt and Jami, busy torching our treats, missed the show. It may have lasted all of five seconds. I can’t recall if I ever told Mark about hearing on Good Morning America the next day that what we saw was a Russian satellite disintegrating over U.S. skies.
Despite having no smart toy to record such things, much of that evening remains digitized on my brain, burned into the dad neurons. Yes, the brilliant fireball. But also the giggling of Jami as she tagged me out with annoying regularity, the impact of plastic on plastic as Matt knocked another homer, and the wide-eyed look to the heavens as Mark and I viewed the perfect special effects to what otherwise would have been one more pretty weak Dad-story.
Matt presently serves in procurement with the U.S. Air Force in Italy. Mark and Jami have passed since that night. They are watching sky shows from a totally different perspective. The Russian meteor not only reminded me of the 1980s incident, but it also makes me think of a future event that the Bible predicts will happen, completely overshadowing even a blazing meteor or a burning satellite. That “big show in the sky” will be a story the kids and I will tell forever, nothing weak about it.