ZTF: Freedom’s Orbit

Second chances and renewal came to mind when I learned that the comet “ZTF” will become visible soon, after a cosmically brief 50,000 years.

It’s never too early to think about signs of spring and the possibility of a second chance to nurture one’s best self and America’s historic promise of freedom of speech.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), photographed by the famous Austrian astrophotographer Michael Egger on December 18, 2022.

I started thinking about second chances and renewal when I learned recently that the newly observed Comet “ZTF” will become visible on Feb. 1, its first appearance in 50,000 years.

We may be composed in part of star-dust, but we’re not an astral body and need to “come back” in other ways if we have failed to follow a course for which we were destined, a course we lacked the courage to follow because we assumed we didn’t have the “right stuff.”

We didn’t listen to an inner voice or the chorus of friends, family, and teachers who believed in us and refused to let us become Thomas Gray’s “mute inglorious Milton” in his “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

Many years ago as a college student in a town where some famous literary figures had lived (including Noah Webster), I had the thought one evening as I wandered around the Common that I might be able eventually to write something worth reading, but I set this daunting ambition aside as self-flattery.

I did manage before graduation to write a few poems that were published in the college literary magazine, but it seemed to me that I had a better chance of realizing my potential in some as yet unidentified field.

At a reception sometime later after a reading by Robert Frost, one of my professors, tall and imposing, motioned for me to approach him and his wife. I looked over my shoulder to see if he really was beckoning me.

“Martha,” he said, measuring his word, “I want you to meet Mr. Wolf, he’s a literary man” I was about to deny it, when she added, “I look forward to reading you.”

I dismissed what the craggy professor and his wife had said and worked in publishing as a copy-editor for a year after graduation. One day, sequestered in a windowless and airless cubicle, I thought, “This is too much like a prison cell, I’m a …literary man,” and I quit.

There were other generous prompts before and after the prof laid an identity on me whose significance I had buried in the peatbog of the mind: my daughter at her age nine addressed a note to me as “My Father the Author.”

Going back even further, my great childhood and high school buddy said to me as we drove in his father’s Cadillac down Manhattan’s West Side Highway to our high school prom at the glitzy Plaza Hotel, “See those lights pulsing across the Hudson, Lefty, someday your writing will shed light on our lives.”

Embarrassed and intimidated, I dismissed what he said as a commencement present, but it came back over the years when I was hit with a rejection slip (one hundred of them before first publication) and was tempted to abandon all quips as well as serious open heart literary surgeries (homage to my old friend who became a Cardiac Specialist).

These encouragements, not properly acknowledged, had been there for me as smelling salts when an editor had decked me and left me looking up at the lights.

It took seven years before I published a short story, but I wouldn’t have written one without having been told by people I respected and cared about that I was a literary man.

I made sure during my career as a teacher-writer to tell every student who had literary ambitions to “keep at it” if I thought the creative spark could become a flame.

America’s pilot light of Democracy is flickering. We have to make sure it stays lit. I suggest a National Day of Silence in which each of us rereads the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, the UN Universal Declaration Of Human Rights and then for us speak up together in defense of our foundational principles.

This day will be Writ Large like the one in which the professor and his wife encouraged me to fulfill my potential.

I offer my story as a fable of recovery and ZTF as a symbol of return.

Howard R. Wolf has a short story collection, Second Time Around and Other Stories. Luther said that every person was a priest; Emerson says that each “Soul” is a poet; I suggest that we’re all literary, given the challenges of the moment. All voices need to be heard.

Howard R. Wolf
Latest posts by Howard R. Wolf (see all)