On Christmas Eve, 1961, I was having dinner at the Lucky Dragon Chinese restaurant in Times Square with my new bride.

While She and I were waiting in line for a table, we overheard a conversation between a father and daughter in the line behind us. This is true.

“It was a meteor,” he told her.

A long pause. It caught our attention.

“This was the Christmas star, the one the Three Kings saw?”

“Yes.”

“And it was really a meteor?”

“More than likely.”

“A meteor like the one that killed the dinosaurs?”

“At least as big.”

“So there were dinosaurs when Jesus was born?”

We got a table and the story hung over us like a … well, like a meteor. A meteor over the manger? What kind of Christmas story is that? Well, aren’t you weary of the same old Three Kings gig?

As I’ve grown older and more paranoid about everything, dark moles on my chest, lost beer bottle openers, burglars and things like that. It seems to get worse.

You would think I’d worry about choking on a fish bone while watching the 15th Democratic debate, or worse, Elizabeth Warren getting the nomination.

So I took a break from my online Christmas shopping to give you something to worry about. Why should you get off so easily?

I did my research and asked this question: What asteroid is on the horizon, and what are our chances of getting punched in the nose?

The answer was incomplete, but still scary.

On April 13, 2029, Apophis (the rock) will pass Earth closer than communication satellites, but will come no closer than 31,200 kilometers (19,400 miles) above Earth’s surface. Some describe it as being as large as the Empire State Building. Wow!

Nineteen-thousand-four-hundred miles. Think about that. Don’t think about packing yet. And where would you go anyway?

A question for all of you as you set the Christmas table. What if that star that hovered over the Judaean hills, the one the shepherds and The Wise Men saw, not unlike Apopis, had decided to skip the 19,400 miles, take the next off-ramp, and had come straight at the manger?

Well, happily it didn’t. But according to the experts, it gets another chance in 2029. Ten years. You can skip paying for the lifetime guarantee on the new dishwasher.

As I sat last night sipping my buttered rum eggnog and watching the sky go dark at 4 p.m., I looked out to the horizon.

She asked, “What are you staring at out there?”

“It’s out there you know,” I replied.

She peered into the darkness. “What?”

“Apopis. Look over there, over Shaw’s Market. See it? It’s the brightest of all of them.”

“That’s the tower light at the airport,” she replied, returning to her book. That’s what she thinks.

So I go through the whole story with her, about Apopois and the mileage thing. I can see she’s ignoring me, so I went right to her Catholic heart.

“What,” I said with a darker tone, “if what The Wise Men and the shepherds and Mary and Joseph thought was a holy star, was really a meteor that could have come crashing down on Bethlehem, and then Jesus would not have been born, and we wouldn’t have Christmas Eve Mass or those big creches on the church lawns, and think how the poor children would suffer because there would be no giving trees at any of the churches.”

“Have you started your column for this week?”

I had her attention now, so I dove right in with the facts. She’s a Capricorn, a former teacher, and she loves facts.

“Did you know that 887 of these mountain-size space rocks are known, and perhaps just 50 or so are left to be discovered?”

Her reading glasses dropped to the edge of her nose.

“I just read that from this serious guy, Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.”

“Oh boy!” she sighed. “Now you’re believing the government you’ve been saying is corrupt.”

“And listen to this,” I continued. “He says there are at least 25,000 such space rocks like that out there — 25,000  — and it only takes one.”

“And it’s out there over Shaw’s Market?” She asked.

“Yes.”

“Well,” she sighed. “Now you’ve got your column.”

“Yes,” I said, as I looked out over Shaw’s Market. “But will they believe me?”

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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