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The Legacy of Stars (On Fireworks and New Year's Eve)

Ages ago, when we were still discovering the art of record keeping and the building of societies, people looked up into the sky at night and saw endlessness. They saw the vast plain of black velvet studded with diamonds before they knew how to describe them as such, and before they knew anything about gaseous celestial bodies and other planets and how truly enormous our universe is. Being unable to understand the colossal scale of what’s out there, these ancestors did what humans always do…they told stories.

People love patterns, and when we cannot yet see what those patterns are, we create our own. We looked up into the endless sky and from the infinite light of the universe, we told our own tales, of heroes and giants, legends and gods, loss, joy, beauty, and pain. We carved out our universe to fit us, and in the process made it all the more beautiful.

Centuries later, when the stars were discovered for what they were, we continued to call them by the names they left us, naming new ones for their stories, naming devices created to explore them after the same heroes and giants, legends and gods. We continue to tell their story every time a star chart tracks the placement of Orion and Cassiopeia and Perseus, and we still tell the stories of how they came to watch over our slumbering world.

When I look up, on nights like tonight, and see fireworks burst into brief life against a backdrop of history and humanity like that, I can’t help but believe that we saw the beauty of the stars and decided to recreate it closer to home, that we might almost touch these legends, and beg them bless our celebrations with all of the ingenuity of ages past.

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