Alone on the prairie floor, Jackson lay on his bedroll, his head supported by his saddle. His horse, Taft, is tied to a nearby tree and snorts to break the quiet of the night.
The sky is black and cloudless and there is nothing, not even the moon, to disturb the piercing light of the stars.
There is no campfire because there is no need. It is late summer and Jackson felt no hunger for food; only for the quiet solitude under the night’s sky.
One star in particular caught his eye. He knew it took the light from a star millions of years to reach the earth. Pondering this, he realized he was looking back in time and wondered where that star might be now.
Was it still there? Had it moved on or had it simply winked out to become some dark hole; a cold, vast emptiness now filling the space it had once commanded.
“What do you think, Taft?” His voice carried in the warm air and Taft snorted again, shaking his body in reply.
Jackson laughed. “Me either.”
But the thought would not let him go and he continued to look into the sky, into the dark spaces between the stars to see if he could catch a streak of movement. To glimpse a smear of light, like the tail of a comet, to prove or disprove the stars trek across time.
A million years shone into his eyes, traveling at a speed beyond his senses, moving as a river moves, changing but always remaining the same.
“Taft, you ever feel like you lost something, but just can’t quite put your finger on what it is?” No reply this time, only quiet.
“Me, too. That’s why I came out here tonight, to see if I could find it.”
A shooting star streaked across the sky, its tail dissolving slow like pixie dust from a magic wand; its trail bridging the dark gap between the stars. Jackson reached up as if to grasp the fading light and cup it in his hand.
He looked at his empty palm. “Maybe what I lost, I never had. Maybe it’s like the light from that comet, just out of my reach.” He looked over at his horse who appeared to be asleep. “What do you think, Taft, ole buddy?” Again, silence.
“Guess I have to figure this one out on my own, huh,” He turned back to watch the sky. But something was still in his craw. “Is love like that? You know a mystery you can see, but just quite figure out?” A single tear broke in the corner of his eye.
“It hurts, Taft. It really, really hurts.” He wiped the tear away with the same hand cupped to catch the light. “I loved her. I still do.”
Beyond the hills, the shrill howl of a coyote stirred the night air and mixed with the winged strum of the cicadas and croak of the tree frogs.
“But she says she doesn’t love me.” A battle was going on inside. Despair fighting with hope, their blades hollowing his heart. Jackson bit his lip, struggling to control the hurt. “I’ve got to move on.”
He stood as if to get closer to the stars. As if by standing he could see their mystery more clearly and then come up with an answer for the emptiness he was feeling.
“Just listen to me; talking to you like you could understand me. Talking to you like a friend.” He turned to his faithful horse. “You think God is listening, Taft?”
Taft seemed to give his head a gentle nod.
“Well, I’ll tell you what I think, my friend.” He picked up his blanket and saddle with a grunt. “I think He was listening.” He walked over to Taft.
“And you know what He told me? He told me love’s no different from the course of those stars out there – changing, but always remaining the same.”
He swung the saddle onto Taft’s back with a big grin. “And you know what else He told me? He told me to go find me a brand new girl friend. That’s what He told me; and that’s just what I’m going to do.”
And so Jackson rode back into town, a better, wiser man. Despair had turned to hope because of the friendship of a horse, the mystery of traveling stars and a God who listens to our hearts – sometimes telling us to simply move on.
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