I went for a walk today. I have a lawn chair poised at the top of our sand hill. I don’t need to sit, but I enjoy sitting for a minute or two, sometimes longer, just looking out over the fields and horizon, the couple of farms I can see dotting the landscape.
I can see enough of the horizon to almost (at least in my mind) envision the curvature of this planet. Once I had an experience I have never duplicated but will never forget. It is mentioned in the book Carl Sagan wrote “Contact” as happening to the character played by Jody Foster. I have forever felt such a connect to Dr. Sagan and trust he is happy now, traversing the universe(s?) I hope, enjoying himself so immensely.
I was a teenager as I recall. I was living in Flint, Michigan in the burbs. We had a large area that was ours, three lots on which set a conventional two-bedroom one-story house and a one-car garage. A few trees, shrubs and that was about it. It was a hot summer night, too hot to sit in a stuffy humidity laden house.
I went outside and into the back yard area. I laid down in the cool grass and looked up at the night sky. Streetlights dotted most corners and stores were a mere couple of blocks away, so I cannot say that it was a great sky for observing stars. Suburbs never can be for the man-made lights. But that was not the point here. As I gazed upward and lost myself in looking ever deeper into the patch of sky directly above, my peripheral vision narrowed until the faint traces of tree or utility wires disappeared and all I had in my field of vision was space, dark and dotted with points of blinking lights.
Then it happened. . . . . Suddenly I had the uncanny feeling of actually laying on this planet, and the planet was all behind me, I was stretched on this surface and it was just me between it and the vastness of space. I, without thinking, reached with my hands and grabbed onto a clump of grass with each hand, hanging on for dear life. Frightened, but not panicked, I sensed this enormous thing behind me moving through space, as I clung to it. I felt that if I let go, I would go sailing off into that vast black expanse. Of course, logic told me I would not, and all too soon reality returned and I saw the utility pole and the tree limb, and regained my senses.
I have tried to recapture that since, here and there in one setting or another. Yet it has never happened again. Perhaps understanding it, prevents it from recurring. It was the unexpectedness of it that caused it to feel so real.
So, I have always had this connection to the sky and universe in this way. As I sat on my hill, I looked up and saw the better part of a full moon, this at 9 am in the morning. It seemed puzzling to me, since I had gotten up at about 2:30 am and it was high in the sky then. It seemed not to have made a great deal of progress in six hours. But then, I don’t pay that close attention to the actualities of moon movement.
I thought about the fact that people had actually stood there on that moon, and taken pictures from it of earth. I feel small when I think of that. There are pictures you can find on the net of earth taken from the surface of Mars, from the orbit around Saturn. The one above is taken from 6 billion miles from Earth and was taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. It is arguably the most famous picture of deep space ever taken. It is called the “Pale Blue Dot.” Dr. Sagan named one of his books that name.
I have taken a break from a forum I’ve mentioned here frequently. I have to rejuice my spirit, since the forum is what others have called, and I agree, is soul-killing. It is almost all about sin and fault, sex and rules, judgment and who is better than who, what faith is correct. Stuff like that. I’m in a crisis of faith right now. Not a crisis with God, no we are getting along quite well. But I’m in a crisis with religion right now, and I’m searching again.
The Pale Blue Dot takes me to a place that makes all the fighting and arguing seem crazy. Dr. Sagan once said that if we could gain the prospective of the earth from space, maybe we could see that our differences pale in comparison to what connects us as one species. It seems that that has not happened sadly. I gaze at the picture and see this faint blue dot, and see how small and insignificant we are, how preciously fragile in the vast expanse of just a tiny insignificant part of a galaxy in a universe filled with billions of such galaxies. We are so small. Yet.
Yet, God somehow in mystery knows me, and you and everything that is here. He infuses us with love and compassion and empathy. He cares for this small ball of matter and for every living creature upon it. We treat it badly, and thus we treat God badly by our careless trashing of our home. We offend God by our anger and warring and hatreds. Yet, He doesn’t turn away, but loves us all the more fiercely. I need a respite from hatred and bickering and chest beating. There is so much of it, but there always has been I hazard to think.
Sometimes I wonder if we have progressed at all over the centuries since Jesus sought to explain to us about brotherhood and a father’s love. But you see that is why I am in this crisis, because I am wondering about progress. God has this way of kicking me in the pants from time to time. Calling me to return and seek more deeply, urging me away from things as usual. So, I shall ponder the ant making his way across the sand, and smile a bit more at the hummingbird gathering nectar, and wonder a bit about the passing of so many deer along my meadow lane. I’ll read with more appreciation and stop to think more. I’ll love my husband more deliberately. I’ll pet the dogs and cats and take a bit more time to converse with them and see the world from their perspective. And I will be renewed.
The Pale Blue Dot is the one at the top. If you look carefully at the reddish band, almost dead center, you can see the faint blue dot of earth. This is what Carl Sagan had to say about it:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.