It was that time of year again. The heat of the summer was finally starting to fade into a dull memory, and the cool night’s breeze gave way to a cloudless sky. It was perfect. A small group of my closest friends were gathered just inside my front door. We each grabbed a glass of the strong, fresh coffee as we headed out the door. In just a few minutes we had reached our destination. We spread blankets out over the basketball courts in the secluded part of the park behind my house, sprawled out on our backs, and stared up expectantly at the sky.

How was I missing every single one?What exactly were we expecting to see? Nature’s greatest fireworks show: the Leonid meteor shower. Every winter the Tempel-Tuttle comet stream and the earth’s path collide, showering our atmosphere with some of the most remarkable fireballs of any meteor shower in the annual cosmic cycle. The number of meteorites, or shooting stars, that you actually see will depend on how dark it is where you are and how bright the moon is during the peak night of the storm. Fortunately for us, the Jewish month had just begun, so the moon was just a day past being “new” . . . it was almost pitch-black outside.

“OH! There!!” The first sighting had been made! I missed it, but the shooting stars were supposed to be falling every four minutes or so until midnight, and then even more frequently after that, so I was not at all worried. “I saw one too!” Missed it again, as did I miss the next four or five that my friends called out so excitedly about. “There’s another one!” Really? How was I missing every single one?

Just as I finished convincing myself that I still had all night to see the shooting stars, an ominous “uh-oh” was sounded from some blanket on the other side of the basketball court. The clouds were rolling in. Sitting up and staring at each other, none of us were sure what to do. Just as quickly as the weather had changed for the worse, it could go right back to a clear night. We stalled, propped up on our elbows, heads tilted towards the sky. No luck. It seemed this weather was staying for a while.

Disheartened, I escorted my guests back to their cars and relegated myself to the porch after they went their separate ways. Head thrown back, sprawled out on a lawn chair, I sat there staring at the sky and asking G‑d why He felt the need to make clouds on that particular night. I didn’t realize exactly how relaxing it was until I jerked awake. I had fallen asleep for who knows how long, but I opened my eyes to find that the sky had cleared and the stars were back out for all to see.

It was decision time, and I wasn’t going to waste another opportunity to see the meteor shower. I felt like it was too bright where I was, too many street lights, too much city light pollution. I wanted to get out and really see the stars, but it was already 2:00 AM and getting outside of the city lights would take some effort. Was it really worth it?

Yes.

I threw on a pair of boots and a long jean skirt, packed a few snacks in a small backpack, dug around my closet for a flashlight, and refilled my travel cup of coffee. I knew I was in for the long haul this time. I got in my SUV crossover and pulled out of the driveway with a rush of adrenaline. It was about twenty minutes on the highway heading towards the beach until the first shady-looking pulloff came up. I switched on my emergency flashers and slowed down, pulling off the pavement onto a rocky gravel path. I followed the bends, looking for a clearing where I could park my car and enjoy the show. What I found instead was a fence and a sign that I was clearly not in the right place:

“NO TRESPASSING! ALL INTRUDERS WILL BE SHOT.”

I immediately knew what part of town I was in . . . A little backwoods, hillbilly kind of place aptly named Christmas, Florida. Yes, Christmas. From the highway it seemed like a cheery little town, with twinkling lights up year round, but in reality it was far from being a merry locale. This was the kind of area where every family owns at least three shotguns, and a sign saying intruders will be shot should be taken very, very seriously. It was time to go.

I raced back to the highway, trying to let my pulse return to normal. Heading east again, it wasn’t long until I found another pulloff. This one was paved at least, a great sign. There were no lights on this road, and the little traffic there was at 3:00 AM faded quickly behind me. When I had gone about a mile down the road, I pulled onto the shoulder and parked my car. Climbing out of the car, I was hit by the deafening noise of silence. I had definitely reached my destination.

I pulled my blanket out, set my coffee on the roof, and climbed up after it. This was creepy. Having second thoughts, I pushed the voice of fear to the back of my head and forced myself to relax. I reclined back on the roof of my SUV and shut my eyes to let them adjust to the darkness now that my headlights had turned off. I was in the absolute middle of nowhere. There were no cars, no houses, no lights, not even any animals that I could hear. It was just me, G‑d, and the stars.

I opened my eyes. The sky that my gaze met was unlike any sky I had seen since my trip to the Negev on Birthright, years before. There were millions more stars than it was possible to see from my house back in the metro area, and dozens of them were falling from the sky. It was breathtaking, awe-inspiring, captivating, life-changing, and every other adjective that could possibly describe the wonder of seeing two to three “stars” tumble from the heavens every minute. I pulled out my phone, ruining my night-vision, and Googled the blessing for shooting stars.

I pulled out my phone, ruining my night-vision, and Googled the blessing for shooting starsBaruch atah Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam, oseh maaseh bereishit . . . Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who makes the Work of Creation.

I closed my eyes again and let my night vision return, meditating on the words I had just said. He who makes the Work of Creation . . . He who is responsible for all of us being here on this planet. He who for some weird reason brought me to this far corner of this little place called Christmas, Florida. My Rabbi once taught me that when G‑d created the world, His energy was hidden in every little piece of creation. As Jews, it’s our job to go and seek out those little sparks of Divine energy and release them by making blessings. I’m 99.9% sure that I’m the only Jew that has ever set foot on the piece of land from where I was watching the meteor shower from . . . Could it really have been part of my mission in life to journey to this bible-belt part of Florida to release the Divine spark stuck here?

It was intriguing thought, but I didn’t have long to contemplate it before a noise started coming out of the forest, maybe half a mile down the road. At first I thought it sounded like an animal that was hurt, but the longer I sat there and listened to it, the more disturbing the noise became. And it was getting closer . . . Either that, or I was losing my mind. I tried controlling myself, telling myself that I was making it up and letting fear get the better of me. I managed to sit on my hands for another thirty seconds before I literally jumped off the roof of my car, spilling coffee all over the windshield and hood. I unlocked the door as fast as I could and scrambled in, locking the door and starting the car faster than should have humanly possible. My tires squealed as I pulled a U-turn and sped back to the highway, windshield wipers cleaning the coffee up as I drove.

I kept heading east, away from the sound and towards the civilization that waited for me near the beach. I was already most of the way there and it was nearly 5:00 AM, so why not watch the sun rise? Heart still pounding in my throat, I pulled into a spot along the boardwalk and ran out to the water’s edge before plopping myself down in the sand.

What was I thinking?! was the only thought running through my head. I never in a million years would have made that trip in my right mind. I knew better than to wander out onto dark roads, away from civilization, and worst of all, by myself! There was only one explanation: that’s where I needed to be. There was something that drew me to that place at three in the morning, something that possessed me to completely deny any common sense that I normally owned. There was a mission that I needed to fulfill in that place. And when my mission was done, I immediately received a sign to get out of there. I had found my way east, back to common sense, and back to the light.

We all have our missions in life; some of them are huge lifelong goals, and some of them are short little treks to release a spark. That night, finding a little bit of holiness in a place called Christmas was my mission. When people see shooting stars, they usually make a wish. I made a blessing. It helped me realize that whenever I find myself in a dark or scary place in my life, it’s for a reason. And now that I’ve completed that particular mission, I’d like to make a wish on the shooting stars also: may any of us with missions in those places complete them easily and quickly and then get out as soon as possible, back to the light . . . back to the sunrise.