- ABOUT US
Megan Rossman, Photography Editor
Photo by STEVEN WALKER
By Megan Rossman
September 5, 2013
I don’t know much about space, except that it’s pretty. My dad was a fan of it, too, although a more educated one. As a kid, I spent many nights outside with him, identifying constellations, watching for meteors, and musing about the unfathomable largeness of the universe.
Earth is small; its tragedies, triumphs, and physical mass insignificant in comparison to the infinite glittering blanket that swaddles it. In the universe, there exists boundless possibility. For a kid who lived in perpetual hope that unicorns were real and that my mother would build me a cassette tape-operated robot horse and as an adult who feels a little disappointed by how calculable the world often seems to be, I am comforted to know there is still much to discover. Reading about scientific breakthroughs or learning about things previously unknown to me creates a divine tingling of possibility and newness. I’m six years old again, and mechanical ponies may be coming down an assembly line somewhere along the space-time continuum. We can only hope.
One night, when I was little, my dad informed me that everything, even I, was made from stars. Exploding supernovas produce new stars, he said, the planets that form around them, and the life on those planets. When he told me this, I looked down at my hands with new respect. I don’t think anyone will ever tell me anything cooler than that.
Some nights, after looking at the stars, my dad and I would sit in the den and listen to Hearts of Space, a late-night radio show that has played dreamy, synthesizer-heavy tunes it terms “space music” since 1973. Think Cosmos with Carl Sagan. We’d drink Coke in the eerie, greenish glow of stereo light, both drifting into our own techno-induced, contemplative states. Sometimes my dad would fall asleep before the program ended, his snores lending startling new crescendos to ambient melodies.
For years, he kept a drafting table in the corner of the bedroom he shared with my mom. I’d watch him draw for hours, smudges of neon chalk and colored pencil gradually coalescing into starry, otherworldly landscapes and National Geographic vistas. Over time, he transformed the bedroom into an unofficial gallery. While the saints of my mom’s Eastern Orthodox icons stared placidly from their perches along the dresser, the walls became a collection of windows to an alternate universe, where ringed planets hung over ragged mountains and arctic poppies sprouted from a glacial tundra.
Original colored pencil drawing by James "Jim" Rossman.
After a few years, pictures lay untouched on the drafting table for increasingly long periods of time, until he stopped drawing them altogether. I don’t know why. Maybe he was bored. Maybe it was his health. He began having heart problems in his mid-forties, followed by diabetes, which required more and more medical intervention over the last twenty years. Recently, his body has been in a tenuous state, worn down by decades of struggle.
Last Friday, it finally gave out. He was recovering from a recent surgery and hadn’t slept well for days. Despite the ungodly afternoon temperature outside where he’d been standing, he told my mom he was cold. She gave him a blanket and expressed concern, which he brushed off. Then he sat down on the sofa, fell asleep, and never woke up.
Turns out, that’s not a phone call or a moment you can prepare for, no matter how long you’ve been bracing yourself for it.
I don’t know what happens after you die. No one does. Could be nothing. Or maybe you really do wait in line at a heavenly gate and get to hang out eternally with other dead people. Or there could be an explosion of fire as your nonmaterial essence is rocketed through a tunnel of unicorns, neon light, and techno beats into some new dimension of existence where everyone rides light cycles like they do in Tron. The possibilities are endless.
What I do know is that the ancient elements your body is composed of are more or less eternal. People may die, and yet they don’t cease to exist.
“We are a way for the universe to know itself,” Carl Sagan once said on an episode of Cosmos. “Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.”