“But then again, when was the last time you were struck dumb by the profundity of a moment?”
For some reason out of the gagillion lines of bad poetry or random “deep” thoughts I’ve been writing since I was a fetus that is one that I remember. I wrote that in a folded spiral notebook I used to walk around with in my back pocket like the kid DiCaprio played in Basketball Diaries. I was nothing if not unoriginal. I was nothing if not susceptible to inspiration-driven stylistic persona larceny. Remembering that line from time to time the thing that made it stick in my later years is that I wrote it some time in my late teens or early twenties. Even then I guess I was fascinated by the desire to be amazed or feel in some way significant. Not just me but existence itself. It seemed like it should be miraculous. Filled with…well, filled.
Last night I took a walk and looked at the stars. Those twinkling pin holes have always demanded my attention. All the stuff up there always has. I sometimes just text my son, the Big One, one word – “moon”. He knows it means he should find it because it’s putting on a show. Some of my favorite early dad memories involve waking him up at like 4 am and pulling the car out onto the street with blankets and laying on the roof of the car with an unobstructed view of a meteor shower or eclypse that facebook or whatever told me about. Back around when I wrote that line we worked so we had rent and beer money. That was it. We were young and went out to our local and holy dive bar sometimes 5 or 6 nights a week. Afterward, before going in, I always spent time, regardless of how blurry my state, just gazing at stars. Thinking the Capulet/Montague thoughts of a hopeful hopeless romantic and somehow believing the answers would all come from that unknowable eternity above me.
I got my first tattoo back then. A bunch of us did. We picked Japanese symbols, as American kids are wont to do for whatever reason, and only those of us who pulled the trigger were allowed to know what each other’s symbols meant. I can release the secret now that mine has long been covered up by something more meaningful from a person with a more fully formed brain, I don’t think those guys remembered what mine meant a few months later and I definitely forgot theirs or even who exactly was in that weird little club. I know I loved them though and still do. My symbol meant “star”. Partially, I think, because of my relationship with the night sky and partially because I always entertained ideas back then that I would become something significant. It had a layered duality and I was an intellectual. Haha. Youth is wasted, and such.
Last night I looked up and I saw Mars or some planet like that. It was red. We went camping and had a great view of two different planets last year. Someone we were with had one of those app things and the kids were enthralled. It was cool but made even more so by their interest in something so grandiose and yet, simple. But in looking at that red glow of a shimmer in the sky last night I, from my speck of infinitesimal patch of sidewalk on Earth, perspectived the whole thing in that I realized that other planet was basically hugging us when, in comparison, all of those stars were as far away as an ancient, long passed 23 and Me’s relative’s twice forgotten memories were.
On Netflix Darren Aronofsky has this new series hosted by the Fresh Prince that looks at Earth from the perspective of 9 astronauts. It’s like Planet Earth from the BBC but looking at the stranger parts of our planet. I’ve so far only watched the first episode but it was a game changer for my brains. The first one was about air. Our air. So, basically, life. For most of my life I held the belief that the rainforests gave us most of our oxygen. “The lungs of the planet” – spoiler alert – fake news. Not a single breath ever leaves the rainforest. The intricacies of just how life is allowed to exist on Earth as posed by this TV show? I can’t even explain how miraculous it really seems to be, even with the great way they scientifically explain it. If you’re interested at all in understanding stuff like this, watch it.
But I do teach science and I actually have a unit on space that covers the stars. I know that a lot of those twinkles have long since been extinguished. It wasn’t the comprehension of distance I so clumsily pointed out with the 23 and Me thing that struck me and kept me thinking leading up to this Slice. I knew that stuff too. But whether or not the stars I was seeing were still there, I have to believe there are millions up there in existence now. Out there. And for the first time when I looked at them last night for whatever reason I envisioned each of those burning inferno suns, so enormous in size and power that, like our own, is visible from unfathomable distances, even after their demise, each with possible planets orbiting them. And I envisioned that just maybe, of those millions too far for us to explore or otherwise know, there may be now or in a million years from now whether our sun is still burning or gone, someone standing on their patch of infinitesimal sidewalk and seeing our little pin hole twinkle and wondering epiphanic wonders similar to mine.
I probably mentioned this last year and try to sneak it in every year to students but the two things I know my brain is not wired to even begin to understand is the fact that the size of the universe is forever, depending on how limiting your definition of the universe is. I just mean everything. Because after everything, there has to be something. Even nothing is something. And the second thing is that something has always been somewhere and always will be. Always. Just that word, “always”, stretching back behind us and out ahead of us is incomprehensible. Because before there were things, there had to be something, and after all we know is done and over, there will be something else.
It would be pretty egotistical of us to believe that with all this space we’re the only ones alive. And yes, in that Will Smith show my eyes were opened to just how incredible it is that our planet even works. This looking at the stars last night and imagining other solar systems and sentient beings possibly seeing our sun as a star wasn’t quite as mentally unreachable as those last two mind-benders but it did strike me dumb in a new way. And once again it made me think about significance. I’m not sure where I land. It sways I guess. Am I, are we, the miniscule insignificant flecks of nothing in the great expanse of everything? Or is the fact that we are a part of such a magnificent mysterious experience with such great enormity proof of our extreme and ultra meaningful significance?
Or we are just a part of one of millions of computer simulations being conducted to find out about a world we will never fully know? Haha. Either way, I’m going to keep looking for moments. In the end I think that’s all we leave with, and they can be so miraculous.