The View From Here

The line zig-zagged up and down Harold’s long driveway. People came from as far away as South America to see what the news media dubbed “a window to the stars;” a phenomenally clear view of the Milky Way from Harold’s back deck.

Harold was used to seeing the famous galaxy star cluster from his home, but on this occasion, because he was so impressed with the camera on his new phone, he took a video to show off its impressive function. His post went viral within hours. By the next evening, Harold, his wife and kids got calls, texts and emails from just about everyone they knew asking if they could pop by to get a look at the Milky Way. By midnight, Harold’s street was jammed with people from all around the county cruising by in their cars to see if they could catch a glimpse of the view.

The following night, Harold stood at the end of his driveway and invited people to park their cars and walk around his house to his back deck. He simply wanted to keep his street clear so as to keep from angering his neighbors with all the traffic. Still unaccustomed to the power of social media, Harold did not anticipate that people would tweet and post and text that Harold’s back deck was open for viewing the Milky Way. Then came the news media, and before Harold and his family really knew what was happening, they were playing host to hundreds of curious onlookers.

That was 10 days ago. Harold had figured a few things out in the meantime, and believe it or not, things seemed to be going pretty smoothly. A couple of local boy scout troops volunteered their time with traffic and crowd control, the local cops made routine drive-bys, a few neighbors popped by from time to time to lend a helping hand or to act as security guards, just in case someone in the crowd got the wrong idea. Mostly, though, people were kind and grateful.

Harold wandered away from the long lines of people to a cluster of trees in his front yard. The solitude felt as refreshing as a cold beer on a hot day. He leaned back against the largest evergreen and lit a cigarette, drawing in a deep and letting it out very slowly. It was the first time since it all began that he actually stopped to take in the strange sight of all these people cycling through his property.

As Harold stood silently in the shadows, he reflected on not only the events of the past week, but what had come from it. For the first time ever, his family was happily working together on a common goal. Neighbors he never spoke to gladly joined in to help out. Visitors thanked Harold and his family for the generosity of opening their home so others could see for themselves the spectacular view. When they did this, Harold would shrug and smile and say it was no bother. He was just happy to share the experience.

And Harold genuinely meant what he said. Opening his home to strangers was the right thing to do. All who wanted to could see the Milky Way, up close and personal, as if they were looking through a telescope. Just because the view happened to be from his private property did not mean he owned the rights to it.

But, at the end of each night, as the rising sun turned the black skies to a dull grey and the people left, Harold would take the box he constructed to solicit cash donations (because, who wouldn’t ask for a couple dollars to offset the wear and tear on his property) and empty it onto the dining room table. Half way through his count, his wife would call out the total contributions made to the online account she had set up.

So, as altruistic as Harold’s invitation seemed for all the world to come on over and take a look at the Milky Way from his back deck, as it turns out, sharing this wonderful experience was also a lucrative endeavor. As Harold snuffed out his cigarette butt, he said a little prayer that the skies would remain clear for just a few more days.


The UnOLWG prompts this week: He leaned back and lit a cigarette; Window to the stars; Ulterior altruism