The boy, who is just 11 years old, sits on the exam table in his briefs. According to my afternoon schedule, he is here for his annual physical exam.
“Did you drive here yourself?” I ask him with the hint of a smile.
“Naw, my dad’s in the waiting room. He thought I could do this on my own.”
“And what do you think?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “Fine with me,” he says.
I leaf through his chart. “What grade are you in this year?” I ask him.
“Fifth,” he says.
“And how is school going?”
He thinks a moment and then says, “Good. I’m having a good year. I like my classes, especially science.”
“Good for you!” I offer a word of encouragement. “What do you like to do for fun when you’re not in school?”
“Well, I like to read and draw and ride my bike. Sometimes I like to go outside and look up at the stars.”
Suddenly, I’m intrigued. “What interests you about the stars?”
“We’re studying space in science. They’re teaching us about the solar system and the planets. But mostly I just like to look at the stars. Some are brighter than others. There’s this one star — at least I think it’s a star — that I can see outside my window when I’m lying in bed. I always look for that one.”
“Ah,” I say, “do you know how to tell the difference between a star and a planet? No? Well, a star emits its own light, like the sun, so it twinkles in the night sky. A planet, on the other hand, reflects light, like the moon, so it doesn’t twinkle. Planets have a steady light, even though they might look brighter than a star.”
“Wow, that’s cool! I’m going to check that out tonight.”
“You do that,” I say. “And now I guess we should do your physical exam and check you out.”
The exam is normal. He is a healthy boy, still full of wonder. As I fill out his exam form, I smile to myself, pleased that such a boy has yet to discover the Hubble photographs of deep space, Whitman’s When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer or even descriptively rich lines from Joyce’s Ulysses such as “the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”
When I was a boy, I remember warm summer evenings, when my friend and I would capture fireflies at twilight and put them in a Mason jar. We’d lie in the grass and watch, fascinated, as the myriad soft lights would blink on and off. Then we’d roll over on our backs and look up at the sky overhead. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you might spot the flash of a falling star. Shooting stars, my mother called them. If you saw one, you could make a wish and your wish would come true.
At his age this boy still possesses that infinite sense of wonder which will hold him in good stead as he sets out on his journey to Ithaka. Who knows what ports of call he will visit, what adventures might lie in store for him ahead?
At his age, I reflect, the possibilities are limitless.
At mine, less so.