Today’s bloganuary (daily writing) challenge prompt is:
“How do you feel when you look at the starts?”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrified of space. There’s a chance I watched Independence Day and Apollo 13 at too young of an age. I’ve still never been convinced we need to mess with theoretical aliens or real oxygen-free environments, but other people can choose for themselves.
As I grew older, though, this sharp fear wore into a deep, unsettled feeling. I couldn’t avoid wondering my own place in the face of such dark unknown when peering into the skies. I just couldn’t see how star gazing could be relaxing fun when it draws our attention from the warmth of terra firma and into all that we may never know.
Only very recently have I begun to make peace with the skies. The most helpful perspective I’ve found about our place in the universe comes from G.K. Chesterton, who offers (in chapter four of Orthodoxy) that size does not correspond to importance, especially when contemplating the universe. This author makes a very specific religious argument in his book, and you are certainly allowed to believe what you want.
However, for me, it has been a very settling idea that just because we are small beings on a small planet, physical smallness does not mean that we and every beautiful object and inspiring concept found on earth are not as important or even more important than whatever else can be found in the expansive cosmos. How reassuring not to feel meaninglessly adrift in the universe.
A much more well known book opens, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Even if you do not believe the religious aspect, the timeless richness of the story stands on its own.
When existence is divided in two, the heavens and the earth are opposite and perhaps equal, if not in size then in literary parallel.
Space is the only thing vast enough to be a foil to earth, to human desires and fears and everything bursting with life and meaning. Space the place where our imagination is reflected back to us and amplified.
Sometimes, boogymen emerge from the darkness, but we may also peer upwards and find a grounding sense of place.
Two months ago, I visited the Frosty Drew stellar observatory with my family. For the very first time, I was guided through many famous constellations. A noted astronomer enthusiastically explained the ancient names along with the twenty first century understanding of certain formations. I could easily imagine ancient ancestors staring at the same stars, explaining their own understanding to their communities
Now, when I stare up at the stars, I’m equipped with names; Venus twinkles close to the horizon, and I can follow an invisible line to Saturn and Jupiter.
Instead of a vast unknown, I’m beginning to look up at the sky and find a stellar road map to my own place in the galaxy and in human history.