INSPI’RE, verb transitive To breathe into.
- To infuse by breathing.
- To infuse into the mind; as, to inspire with new life.
Micah’s sitting upside down on the couch, his feet on the headrest, his head hanging over the edge. Asa’s wearing a pink apron backwards because it makes the best cape, but he’s long since given up flying around the front room. The kids are all passive, reflective, maybe even a little bored. Not that I don’t appreciate the value of boredom. But I’m feeling it a little, too.
“Hey, there’s a meteor shower tonight.”
I instantly have their attention. The last meteor shower they saw meant popcorn at one in the morning with the neighbors.
“It’s kind of a minor meteor shower. But there are two really cool things about it. First, the meteors look like they’re coming out of the mouth of Draco the Dragon. Second, it’s visible in the early evening so you don’t have to stay up so late.”
Their sighs indicate that the second really cool thing I mentioned isn’t really all that cool in their minds. They return to their previous positions and, for a moment, it seems like they have all just switched themselves off.
“Ok, let’s do it.” Nisa finally announces.
A flurry of activity and they are ready. I take them to the north side of the house, doubt out loud my ability to find Draco, assure them that it doesn’t really matter. They just need to look up and to the north to see the meteors. If there are any. But the whole fire breathing dragon thing is kind of lost if you never find the dragon.
And we want to see the dragon’s breath.
“Alright. You guys see the Big Dipper, right?”
They point to it, verifying their knowledge.
“Ok. You draw an imaginary line through the two stars on the outside of the ladle of the dipper and follow it straight out until you hit a bright star. That’s the North Star, or Pole Star. Near the middle of that line, there’s a faint little star and that’s the last star in the tail of the great dragon.”
I rack my brain for some mythology. Cultures around the world have used the night sky as a canvas for their stories. I again resolve to look some of them up so that I can give the children at least tidbits of the stories whenever we look at the stars.
It is in these quiet moments of discovery that they are most open to the stories I tell.
But all that comes to mind is history.
“The funny thing is, the North Star wasn’t always the Pole Star. The earth wobbles. 2,500 years ago, while the Egyptians were building the pyramids, they used another star to anchor their directions. And interestingly enough, you use the Big Dipper to find it, too.”
The stars we were straining to make out suddenly popped forward in the night sky and the Milky Way materialized overhead. All the kids immediately wonder what just happened. It is strange what you notice when you focus all your attention on one thing. Like how the sky doesn’t get steadily darker after sunset. It seems to darken in small leaps.
“You take the other side of the ladle, draw an imaginary line between the two stars and follow it to Thuban, the former pole star in the tail of Draco. From there, you just sort of follow the snake around to Draco’s head. It’s kind of a crooked quadrilateral that looks a little like ladle of the Little Dipper.”
Finding Draco seemed like an accomplishment. I wasn’t sure any of them were actually looking at Draco, but we all stood, staring above. Watching. Waiting.
There’s this incredible feeling of expectation when watching for meteors. And most of them are gone so quickly that you scarcely realize you are seeing one before it is already gone. So you stand there, waiting for the next one, anticipation building, as you hope for another one.
But the dragon doesn’t breathe fire for us this night. He gives us a little hiccup. I see one. Nisa and Micah each claim a couple. But he does not fail us for there is a different kind of breath. The breath of life, the breath of wonder, the breath of inspiration.
For that’s all inspire really means . . . to breathe into.
And what more could I ask for but to breathe life into my children’s learning on a clear October evening?