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Instant Belonging, Just Add Paint | Dr. Lindsay DeMarchi

Written by Dr. Lindsay DeMarchi, The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve STEM Network’s Astronomer-in-Residence

I cried my first night as an Astronomer-in-Residence finding instant belonging. Not because I was suddenly strewn between mountain valleys and echoing birdsong, but because I beheld the sky for the very first time. Despite studying stars in immaculate detail for more than a decade, I always “knew” there were stars above me, but never embodied the knowledge into my subconscious. I spent my life bouncing from cities to suburbs. The uninterrupted sky my first night remained a quiet stoicism I enjoyed in solitude. For this, it could not be called the most fulfilling moment of my stay.

Rather, it was being welcomed into the Stanley Library’s back room, packed with a dozen strangers to each other and myself. After introducing myself to their warm smiles, they held their patience as I laid bare the same confession. Like the stars, I always knew my town library was there, but I never went. 

Until one day, it wasn’t. The library in my hometown closed from under-utilization. And yet here we were assembling to learn something about our smallness in the universe and further humble ourselves before a blank canvas and wet paint – perhaps the scariest way to find yourself in front of a group of strangers.

Libraries were always a place anyone could go, but not a place I needed to be. I had books. I had the internet. And I had a group of friends. However, I’ve moved every other year, jumping time zones and latitudes, and my friends are in my phone. The idea of a community was a far off relic of history I thought wasn’t afforded by my own generation, we’d killed it with our lifestyles. Most of all, I thought I was too shy.

But that night saw a degree of worn-in smiles across eager faces to welcome each other, not just myself.

To try something new without the guise of perfection. For a night, I was in a community. A young lady arrived after all the canvases had been distributed. An enthusiastic beckon from the back corner encouraged her to share a canvas with a pair of women. The four of us belly laughed every time I frequented the corner. They were the last to leave, too, exchanging numbers and offering guest rooms. 

The most beautiful part about studying stars is all the dark spaces in between them, that stargazers and professionals alike fill with wishes and questions. But whether we’re standing on Earth, or exploring the cosmos in ships, we will never replace the feeling of love, of home, and of community. That we must carry with us.

I knew when I saw the stars for the first time, truly knew, for the first time in my life, I had never been alone. There was always a sky of stars watching over me. I told the Stanley painters, that when the universe began, you, every star in the sky, and every molecule in existence, were once one, touching. Things are quite spread out now, but we fill those spaces with love. And enough love, enough spread out, is community. Thank you Stanley, for helping me experience the stars on Earth.