I’m sitting in a surgery waiting room writing this. I don’t know what else to do and I can’t stare at the numerous status monitors knowing my wife’s neck is cut open while doctors probe millimeters from her spinal chord. Most people don’t know about my wife’s surgery because I didn’t post it on Facebook, or let people know who didn’t need to know. “Thoughts and prayers” are mostly bullshit people use to gain a sense of self importance and to feel relevant to a situation in which they are not involved. On the flip-side, I’ve always felt the people seeking thoughts and prayers on a social media platform just want to advertise their current situation for sympathy. I didn’t want either, so I didn’t advertise. The people who really are thinking and praying for my wife and our family don’t need to say it. Their actions are their voice. By the time this is posted, if it’s posted, the surgery will be over, and my wife be home, and I’ll be shooting the sky again. Most people still won’t even know that anything happened.
So what the heck does this have to do with astrophotography? Nothing. Though my wife might disagree, there are times that I think about things other than cycling and taking pictures of red fuzzy things in the sky. Watching a loved one go through major surgery and sitting in a room full of nervous and anxious people does make me think about our insignificance as a planet, species, my wife and I as people, and her surgical procedure. But while I ponder how little we mean in the big picture, there is a competing sense of personal significance I feel when my wife’s spine is being prodded.
Her doctor has performed this cervical fusion procedure over 2000 times in his career, It’s as routine for him as a filling is for a dentist. There are a couple thousand people in this hospital right now, about 40,000 in this town, 11,000,000 or so in the state, 330,000,000 in the country, and over 7,000,000,000 on the planet.
Our planet is one of eight in our own solar system. Three of those planets, including Earth, have most likely harbored life at one point in their existence (not to mention the moons of planets that could have life right now). We circle one star; an average and common star. Our galaxy has somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000,000,000 stars. Billions of those stars have planets. Beyond our galaxy lay hundreds of billions more galaxies. The estimated number of stars in the universe: roughly 10^24, or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The number is so large, and as technology enhances observations, it keeps going up in a way that it might as well be infinite. These numbers don’t even touch on the theoretical multiverse, or bubble universes within our own universe, or galaxies that have faded from our view as they travel away from us faster than the speed of light. Carl Sagan conveyed this sentiment better than anyone when speaking of “the little lue dot” in the original Comsos series… certainly better than I ever could, but this is how it rattles around in my brain.
The vastness of everything and insignificance of me is how I often think of things to keep perspective. This is THE Universe. Anything going on in my life, people being born or dying, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, asteroids, presidents, dictators, wars… They aren’t even blips on the cosmic radar. They’re just things we say are significant to feel important on this planet, Not to mention the galaxy, or our universe. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel significant. I think a feeling of significance or importance is what makes us civilized, though I’d also argue a little less self-significance could make us a little more civilized as a species and a society. There’s a delicate balance that never seems to be quite right. If we got it right, and realized our place in our universe, I think we could avoid a lot of war, fighting, and unnecessary death. A lot of us who take pictures of space do so to feel closer or more connected with this balance, whether we realize it or not.
Today, however, is about my universe, and my wife’s universe. We’re parallel universes going through this together, and they don’t currently exist outside of this hospital. I feel significant to us, and our parents, and our daughters, and our siblings. I don’t expect much outside of that, and I’m not disappointed when I don’t get anything outside of that. Everyone else has their own universe. If anything my universe is just a blip on their cosmic radar… and I’m OK with that. I understand because I know the center of my universe has just a few galaxies spread around. The rest is just cosmic microwave background.
At first thought, it might be a little depressing to think that everything in you started as hydrogen atoms billions of years ago that were fused into helium, then subsequently heavier and heavier elements inside stars, only to be released when those stars exploded. You might wonder what you’re purpose is, or where you fit in. That might scare the shit out of people looking to be the center of everything. For me, it’s a freeing experience. I only have one main responsibility in life, and that’s to make mine and my four parallel universes as kick-ass as they can be. Today is a tough, tense time in our multiverse, but getting through it will make it a more beautiful place – like the supernova and then the beautiful gas and dust clouds that follow.
Make your Universe kick ass, but remember where you came from… literally.
Clear Skies – KA