Dedicated to Andrada
It was years before my natural curiosity and my studies took me to tread the paths of science; before I had any interest in knowledge; it was in my early adolescence, when everything is yet to be discovered and the world, like an outdated conjurer, winks to us from behind its old tricks, that can only fool the children.
It happened to me only twice; just two times; but though four decades have elapsed, how could I forget?
It was the summer; one of those summers of my boyhood, so long they saw us grow, so full of events they became epochs. We used to go for three months to my grandparents’ village, a place where time, light and space took on new, different dimensions. The monotony of our classes, its didactic clock setting the hours and days in the city; or the geometry of desks, classrooms, streets and buildings squaring the scenes with their linear proyections, became suspended in the village, giving way to a changing and heterogenous space, where our spirit spread out in the limitless freedom the countryside and our holidays granted to us.
And it was one of those nights of heat, under that infinitely starred sky that existed only that side of the mirror. In the silent patio, the air was a dense, static fluid; not a puff, not a leaf stirred in the surrounding greenery: the vine, the rosebay, geraniums and tall laurel were like still shapes in a fantastic garden.
I had taken out a deck chair and, leaning on it, contemplated the fascinating firmament, so packed with stars that in some areas there was barely room for yet one more. Then, immersed as I was in that vast immensity, my eyes filled with the sky and those distant suns, I suddenly sensed – not understood, but sensed – the existence of a mystery far beyond the human reach, and felt overawed; the notions of inconceivable infinite and eternity dawned on me, and an ineffable feeling of insignificance seized me and shrunk me into virtual nothingness; as if the universe was contemplating me and annihilating me under – paradoxically – the weigh of its own emptiness.
How inadequate is the language for describing such sensations! For one second I felt as if weightless, a shiver run through my body while my hair stood on end, and stunned, bewildered, I got my eyes filled with tears; not out of grief or happiness, but pure inapprehensible emotion. It was not an epiphany; nothing mystical, trascendent or magical; nothing religious or spiritual, but a sudden clairvoyance of the unfathomable – and perhaps my first ever premonition of the absurd.
* * *
One month elapsed, and there was another night of new moon and summer heat, under the same starry firmament. I walked this time with my friends along an empty road into the fields. We sat for a moment on the ground. I bent my head back and looked up at the sky; and then, from beyond time and space, for the second time the stars watched me, and again I shuddered and felt thrilled like that other night, beset with the same baffling sense of what lays beyond all reason, imbued with a certitude about the human irrelevance. So strong was the trance that, for a split second, I almost lost my senses.
The night helped me to hide my tears from the always teasing eye of the others. However, a while later I wanted to share and check such experience with them, my good friends; they were older than me and they might have experienced the same some time. As best as I could, I told them what I had felt; I tried to convey to them and explain that sort of cosmic connection, that fleeting intuition of the universe, that eye-opening sudden knowledge; but I didn’t get the smallest feedback; no twin voice vibrated with the harmonics of understanding or sympathy; they didn’t know what I was talking about, and – maybe thinking I was just saying nonsense – stopped listening to me.
How could that be? The galaxy had “talked” to me with an almost telepathic poignancy; how no one else had sensed the same? Perhaps for the first time in my young life I thought I was different, unlike the others, as if something distanced me from them. Also I felt ashamed, and since then on – unable to explain the ineffable and certain that I would not be understood – I have never talked to anyone else about that. Besides, somewhat scared by that imposing and odd sensation, that giddy shuddering I had had twice, I never dared to watch the night sky like that for years to come, until I was an adult; but then the stars wouldn’t ever watch me back again. There was no long any room for me in Neverland.