November 03, 2004 - 10:46 amA CURSE ON MY PANTS
I’m pretty depressed about the near certain outcome of the 2004 elections, but I’m not at all surprised.
Sometimes I feel like Billy Pilgrim in that I have these weird, hallucinatory, non-linear life visions. I jump forward and backward all the time, and that, not surprisingly, always makes me a loser in that game "Dead or Alive" – you know, where you try to guess if certain celebrities, politicians, musicians, etc. are dead or alive. I’m not even 100% sure of my age or the year all the time. I know that may sound crazy, but it seems less so if you think of it in the language of Jung’s collective unconscious, which is really just a way of describing finely tuned perceptive ability or intuition. We’ve all got it; some people can just tune it in better.
Or maybe I AM really crazy and have an overactive imagination that coincidentally happens to be right a lot of the time, which reminds me of something the Boy told me yesterday.
He has a kid in his kindergarten class that has some kind of quirk with his brain – he’s either Autistic or he has Asperger’s Syndrome or something – and he’s always saying the most bizarre things with perfect linguistic expression. When the Boy comes home from school I always look forward to an "Aaron Story." Past stories have included rainbows with magical power and unseen entities in the room with him. Yesterday’s story was of Aaron raising his hand in class, and when called on, announcing he had “a curse on his pants.” His prim English school teacher always knows exactly what to say, and I applaud her for resisting the urge to, at the very least, giggle, or, much more likely in my case, to laugh so hard tears come out her eyes. Anyway, the Boy always relays her responses to me along with Aaron’s claims, and this time she was just as clever as usual. She reminded Aaron that he was “using his imagination too much again,” and needed to “pick up a book and read a real story instead.” This cracks me up. I mean, I totally know what she means, and she needs to keep his outbursts to a minimum for the good of the class as a whole, but I can’t help wondering (and wondering whether she’s wondering): maybe there IS a curse on his pants and only he knows about it. And why is HIS imagination less valid than the imagination of the writer of the children’s book?
But, as usual, I'm jumping around in my story.
I had one of those weird intuitive moments in 2000, when Bush was appointed president by the Supreme Court, that something had gone horribly wrong in the world’s time line. It was more than disbelief or disappointment that "my candidate" didn't win; it was the distinct and undeniable feeling that it just wasn’t supposed to happen that way. When I described this strange feeling to people my parents’ age, I got an overwhelming response of understanding from them as they remembered the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. It just wasn’t supposed to happen.
So, yeah, I’m feeling depressed, but not all baffled and confused like I was after the last presidential election. The outcome this time is a direct and logical result of our big mistake four years ago. And in an effort not to sweat the small stuff, I have decided to focus on the big picture. Bigger. Even bigger than that. Keep going. Almost there now. A little bigger. Okay, there.
If this doesn’t put things in perspective for you, nothing will.
We are stardust. Literally. All that was out there at the beginning of everything was pretty light stuff: hydrogen, helium, small amounts of lithium and traces of some other lightweight elements. Then stars formed miraculously and made inside themselves a lot of the other elements that made creation of earth and everything on it, as well as all the other planets, possible. And then when those first stars went supernova, they spewed all those new elements out, giving birth to the heavy stuff we’re made of: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, calcium, all that. Then it was a simple matter of this and that coming together to make…well…us. Stardust. I think that's amazingly cool. Miraculously cool.
But since I'm about as expressive as G.W. when I try to describe the wonder of this phenomenon, I’ll let Carl Sagan do it for me. He once said, looking at this view of earth:
"...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."
You said it, Carl. See you on Tralfamadore.
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