Recently, as my brother was taking his turn keeping vigil at our dad's bedside, the two of them relived many a coon hunt of his boyhood nights gone by. That's when he thought of a question he had always wanted to ask.
"It was so dark out there in the woods," he mused. "How did you always know exactly where we were?"
The faintest smile flickered across Dad's face as he held up a weak forefinger and answered, barely above a whisper, "One star."
Later, my brother shared this story with me over breakfast. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. One star. My dad, the consummate hunter, looked to the sky to get his bearings. To keep his perspective. To find his way. How beautifully profound I find that idea. How powerful that image is--a single star somehow separating itself from the others to say "Fix your eyes on me. I will help you see through the night. I will show you where you have been. I will lead you to the next place you want to go."
The idea of a guiding star is certainly not new. The Bible tells us that the magi followed a star to Bethlehem to find the Christ Child. Poet Robert Frost bids us "Choose Something Like a Star" to use, in a figurative sense, as a moral and ethical compass that can somehow grace a faltering human resolve with certainty and steadfastness. What is new to me is the surprising revelation that my dad, no less so than Frost and the eastern kings, understood, in his own way, the power of one star.
At this writing it has been less than a week since that early-morning conversation between my brother and me and less than twenty-four hours since Dad died. As I sat with him in the early hours this morning, as his breathing was growing shallower and his heartbeat became barely audible, I knew what I wanted to tell him.
Look up, Daddy. Find that one star. It will show you the way through this darkness. It will lead you home.