A million rocks - some sharp, some not, all hard - race through space, bound forever in elliptical orbit as if locked onto a celestial railroad track. Each year our tired Earth negotiates through the speeding shrapnel to be punched, pierced and pockmarked. But if you look up at the midnight sky in early August, you will see a spectacular show, the Perseids, the grandest of meteor showers.
"Tonight," I announced to three happily surprised kids, "everybody stays up late to watch the meteors!"
"Hooray!" they shout, bouncing around the yard like tennis balls. "Meteors, meteors!" Then, after a pause, "what's a meeteyors?"
"You'll see," I said, mysteriously.
Recently, I was reminded of that sweet long-ago, summer night, and I have a question about kids and voters: "Why do they do that?"
Consider voters: Why do so many keep voting against their best interests? Working men and women vote for politicians who want to weaken unions. Parents vote for those who threaten children's health by attacking environmental standards. Senior citizens demand that the government "stay outa' our Medicare." Voters keep re-electing those we know to be liars and thieves and possibly worse. I don't understand it.
My question about the kids on that summer night was answered. I wish the political question could be so readily resolved.
A bright arc streaked overhead. "Look," I said, pointing. "A meteor."
By the time the kids focused, it was gone. They never saw the ones I did. But as the moments flowed by, they began to see the glowing trails and were thrilled.
"Meteors, meteors of the night," they shouted, laughing, running, relishing the rarity of staying up so late in the warm darkness.
"I caught one!" Lisa shouts, opening her hand. "See?"
"That's a lightnin' bug," Amy corrects her. She's 8, much older and wiser.
"Oh," Lisa says, letting the little creature fly away.
"Daddy," Michael asks, "are they all small, like that lightnin' bug?"
"I guess a lot of them are," I said. "But I think most are bigger."
"Bigger?" He thinks about that. "Maybe big like, um, a T-Rex?"
"Sure," I said. "Lots of them must be."
As the night deepened the girls grew more animated, but Michael, age 4, grew quieter. He stopped his usual incessant questions and hovered closer to me, finally sitting quietly beside me on the steps.
"Are you sleepy?" I asked.
"No," he nodded.
"Then how come you stopped all of a sudden?"
He shrugged and moved closer.
I finally ushered them upstairs, the girls singing excitedly, "meteors of the night, meteors of the night!" Michael remained quiet. Soon they were settled for sleep.
I wondered about Michael's unusual behavior. He was always enthused about science and I thought our astronomy outing would fascinate him. Why did he do that?
As I left his room, Michael asked, "Daddy, could you pull the shades down?"
"OK," I said, "but then you won't get the nice breeze. Are you sure you want them down?"
I did so and started to leave.
"Daddy?" he asked.
"Hmm?" I paused.
"Do you think they could, um, get in here, you know, in my room, even with the shades down?"
"Who?" I asked - and then I understood.
"You know," he said. "Those, um, meat-eaters of the night."