In 1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the most popular shows on television. The episodes were so good that it was easy to tell that the cast was especially enjoying themselves. One of the episodes that year was “The Inner Light.” It was a beautiful story in which a strange probe approaches the Enterprise and attaches a beam to Captain Picard, who loses consciousness and has a dream in which he is living on a distant planet. He enjoys a full life there, with a wife, two children and a grandson, and he becomes politically active in his community. He even outlives his wife. One day his daughter asks him to watch a rocket launch. He hesitates, but then his deceased wife and best friend appear. The Captain then exclaims, “It’s the probe that was sent for me!”
After enjoying this episode many times, I was reminded of another beautiful story. Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1824, it is called The Great Stone Face and concerns a large natural face-like structure hanging near Franconia Notch, across some granite rocks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The site was magnificent, at last until a few years ago when the face fell down in a big heap. The cliffs are still there, but no more face.
The night sky is much like Star Trek, and much like Hawthorne. We look at a group of stars, perhaps a constellation or two, and our brains begin to make connections. On Star Trek we share the idea of traveling through space, even if all we have to warp through space with our two good eyes and a telescope. Some of us may even remember chapter 12 of Hawthorne’s masterpiece The Scarlet letter, in which the “A” is likened to a meteor crossing the sky at midnight:
“…before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors, which the night-watcher may so often observe burning out to waste, in the vacant regions of the atmosphere. … And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two.”
Was the meteor an interpretation of the scarlet A parading across the sky? The night sky is full of messages, and only some of those messages come from astronomers. The rest come from people like you and me, people who have innocently stood up a looked at the stars, and who have wondered. The rest come from Shakespeare, and Tennyson, and perhaps even Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The next time you look at the stars, picture yourself not just watching them but reading them. Learn the stories they tell, as interpreted by your favorite writers whether they be Shakespeare, Tennyson, Hawthorne, or even you. What sparks your imagination can be something as simple as a story you have heard, seen read, or even written. Even in our modern age, the message could indeed be written in the stars.
The episode is the favorite episode of actor Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard. “The Inner Light” was ranked among the top five episodes in a “viewers’ choice” marathon that was broadcast just before the premiere of the series finale. – Wikipedia