“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.”
~ Carl Sagan
The eclipse Monday afternoon put me in one of those deep “perspective” moods that I find myself in anytime I look at the sky and imagine, as best I can, the enormity of the universe.
A solar eclipse is a decidedly local event in relative terms. Our planet is one of a handful in a solar system that is one of billions within a galaxy that is also one of billions. In terms relative to the grand scale of this universe, the eclipse was a tiny thing. Insignificant. And, one can naturally conclude, our own human scale is insignificant to the dance the Earth, Moon and Sun have played for billions of years.
It is easy to get lost in that idea of insignificance. Sometimes, when personal matters reach a certain uncomfortable point, as they do in all of our lives, that idea of being a voyager on that “mote of dust in the morning sky” is comforting. It sure takes the pressure off!
But the truth is that our own lives — all of our interactions, thoughts, dreams, failures and our happiest moments — matter a great deal. They are the sum of who we are and a culmination of all that has happened up to this point, and surely there is no greater accomplishment of all these atomic particles than to be part of something that can know and explore things!
Through a simple mind exercise of zooming in and out of the universal scale, I can exist simultaneously as important and unimportant. All that I am and all that I touch was forged in the unimaginably hot fires and immense pressures of long ago exploded stars. And yet, via forces we are only beginning to understand that stretch out to the edges of science and into the embraces of religion, I am assembled into a molecular order that can ponder all of this grandeur.
Pretty darn cool.
The eclipse was not a controversial news story. It wasn’t owned by any one ideology or group. It had no cost other than to safely see it. It was a reminder that the planet we share is either all of ours or no one’s. Our mathematics could predict it, but no power we can as of yet wield could ever have kept it from happening down to the nanosecond.
Somewhere, in that deepest of truths, is the purest way of viewing the framework of existence.
It’s natural we spend our time and energy worrying about the things we can most easily see and the things we can actually impact. It takes great effort and expense to peer into the atomic world, or to gaze deeply into the vastness of space. It’s no wonder, as a consequence, that the average person so rarely gets lost in those levels outside of this one right here that our senses can make sense of.
Every once in awhile, though, we should step back, just as the cosmos nudged us to do this week in a dramatic fashion, and really focus on the fact that we are part of something bigger than politics, celebrity dramatics and the bills in the mailbox.
For me, the best part of the eclipse was that we all did that together at the same time.