I’m a big fan of the midnight walk. I feel like it’s an underutilized resource. There’s something special about leaving one day and coming back the next. I’m a fan of the forty minute period between 11:40 p.m. and 12:20 a.m. — it’s 20 minutes to reflect on the day gone by and 20 minutes to look forward to the coming one. There’s only one thing missing to make it a perfect night.
Stars. I’m in love with the stars. When I was younger, I used to want to be an astronomer, until I began failing math. I even went to astronomy camp the summer between sixth and seventh grade. And as cliché and nerdy as it sounds, I met my first true love at that camp, in Tucson Arizona, in an observatory on top of a mountain, and I never saw her again. So yeah, I feel pretty connected to the stars. Every time I look up, it takes me back to a simpler time, when I could just star gaze for hours and hours in that observatory or in my backyard or through my old telescope.
But now I live in Chicago, or, more accurately, just north of it. Chicago, the third-biggest city in America. Chicago, a city of three million people. Chicago, a city with buildings a thousand feet high that block out the entire sky. Chicago, where you can’t see a single star at night due to the light pollution.
The city to the south casts a sickly, beautiful orange glow over the night sky. It looks almost like a sunset frozen in time above the Sears Tower, and it truly is magnificent. It eliminates any possibility of star gazing, though, a tradeoff I find myself struggling to deal with.
You see, I wish on stars. It’s something I’ve done since I was about three years old. Call me childish, but it helps me get through the day. And when I lived back home, I would have millions of stars and shooting stars (which everyone knows count double) to wish on all the time. I would wish to be rich, I would wish for my fourth grade crush Liz Kemery to like me back, I would wish for an A on my math quiz tomorrow. You name it, I wished it. And I firmly believed that they would come true, because you don’t mess with stars. And now they’re gone.
Now I live in Evanston, and the light pollution doesn’t exactly reach all the way up here. The sky slowly fades from orange to blue to purple to black as you turn your gaze northward, and it’s beautiful. There’s still enough light pollution to make it extraordinarily difficult to see the stars, though. On a clear night, far enough north, you might be able to catch one or two winking, but most of the time you’re out of luck.
And for a while I thought, and I guess I still think that because it’s so much harder to find them now, in Chicago, than compared to back home (but the fact that I keep doing it, that I keep searching until I find that one elusive star), maybe the fact that even though it’s so difficult, I still haven’t been weaned off of wishing on stars shows how determined I am, and that finally one of them will come true.
And part of me says who cares, wishing on stars doesn’t actually do anything, that’s stupid and childish and it’s time to grow up. But another part of me, a better part of me, the part of me that makes me look in the first place, won’t let me just give up like that. When I lived in Mechanicsburg, I would look up and see millions and millions of stars all at once, and it was almost overwhelming. But now, in Chicago, you have to earn that shit. You have to be determined. You search and search, trying to find that one star, the first star, the one according to tradition (“starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight…”) you can wish on, and once you finally find it, and make that wish you’ve been saving up for hours, you feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s like you’ve earned it, you successfully found that star, and now you’re entitled to that wish. It’s like a job well done. All in a day’s work.
My wishes now are embarrassingly similar to my wishes as a kid. I wish to have a stable job once I graduate, I wish for my current crush (who I’m not about to reveal) to like me back, I wish for a good grade on my English midterm paper next week, you name it, I wish it. And, still, none of them have come true, but I think it’s only a matter of time. If you work that hard for something, there has to be an eventual payoff. I’ve still got hope; it’s discouraging when none of them ever come true, but I’ve been wishing on stars my entire life. I can’t just quit cold turkey. It’ll all be worth it someday.
If you’re ever walking along the Lakefill around midnight, come join me. I’ll be sitting on the rocks, in front of the lake, trying to secure a better tomorrow.