Being Humbled By The Universe

As a child, I remember laying in my grandparents yard on delightfully dark nights while gazing at the clearly visible glow of our galaxy – the Milky Way – and the sparkle of uncountable twinkling stars. Star-gazing gave me a sense of wholeness and complete peace and calm, as any earthly problems I had lost their significance when compared to the vastness and timelessness of space itself.

Unfortunately, suburban sprawl and accompanying light pollution have enveloped the area where I grew up, making it impossible to view the contours of our galaxy without the aid of a telescope. Still, that feeling of personal insignificance in the larger scheme of the universe has stayed with me throughout my life.

After seeing images of a distant Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 as it headed for the outer limits of our solar system, American astronomer and well-known science educator Carl Sagan eloquently summed up my feelings.

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.
-Carl Sagan

Sagan’s words seem particularly notable during our current time of crisis as governments and citizens bicker over the perceived best way forward when faced with the difficult choice between saving human lives or protecting livelihoods. While individuals and organizations in many regions of the world are coming together to support those in need, there are some who are using the current situation to further their own narrow political agenda with little regard for the rights of others or the greater good.

Live Free or Die?!

Over the past few weeks, protests organized by right-wing extremist groups and members of the anti-vaccination movement have erupted in many US states. Proudly dismissing the main-stream media’s – and scientific expert’s – warnings of Covid-19 as part of a deep-state plot to take away their rights, these citizens have obviously been brain-washed by three years of the Trump Administration’s ‘there is no truth’ policies. Many have also been swayed by the large number of conspiracy theories circulating around the internet currently.

A ‘Re-Open’ Florida protest. Photo: John Raoux – Associated Press

Some protesters have been armed with guns while many carry American flags and others sport signs and banners featuring the enduring phrase ‘Don’t Tread On Me.’ In the South, Confederate flags have been a staple of rallies as well.

The Gadsden flag or banner – a yellow flag with a striking Timber Rattlesnake and the words ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ – was designed in 1775 and used during the American Revolution. Later it became a symbol of American patriotism, disagreement with government, or support for civil liberties. ‘Live Free or Die’ is the official motto of the US state of New Hampshire.

Both of these mottos can be spotted at reopen protests around the USA. 

While I fully support anyone’s right to protest peacefully in public spaces, I do quibble with the intent and timing of the current protests against state rules which are aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus. For government leaders at the local level, the rapidly changing pandemic presents few easy choices as they seek to provide solutions that will both save lives in the near-term and prevent further economic disruption in the future.

A protest in Olympia, Washington against the coronavirus shut-down. Photo: Matt M. McKnight for Crosscut

Many of those protesting appear to be white and middle class as indicated by the parades of folks in big SUVs with horns blaring that have descended on the streets of many state capitals. Perhaps I could be more sympathetic if these were gatherings of the poorest among us who are being harmed most by business shutdowns.

But of course people with the greatest and most urgent needs don’t have time to protest. They’re often the ones still risking daily infection by continuing to show up for jobs they can’t afford to lose.

Those who are protesting clearly demonstrate their disregard for community health and the well-being of their fellow citizens by gathering in large groups and refusing to wear masks or adhere to expert advice on social distancing. While I admit to having an innate dislike of authority myself (blame my rebellious Scots-Irish ancestors), I believe that all humans are equally bound by a responsibility to work toward common goals that benefit all.

In this case, that means adhering to the advice of health professionals in an effort to protect those who are most at risk if they become infected. As we all should understand at this point in the pandemic, protecting those most at risk has the added benefit of lowering the risk that healthcare providers will become infected.

This concept of ‘all for one and one for all’ isn’t simply a line from The Three Musketeers or some pie in the sky liberal’s dream, it’s a matter of life and death for many during a pandemic and a principle we must adopt if we want our species to continue to have a future on our planet. This appears to be the lesson nature is demanding we learn as we carefully navigate our way through this crisis and face the even greater challenges posed by climate change.

A unique take on social distancing: ‘Divided We Stand, United We Fall.’

Masks and Social Distancing in Public

While the CDC has issued guidance advising people to wear a face covering in public spaces, some disgruntled individuals are using the situation as an excuse to lash out at fellow citizens.

My two sisters were recently verbally attacked while entering a small supermarket in North Carolina. As they were entering through a set of manual double doors, a lady exiting the store blocked their way and began ranting at them because they were wearing masks.

This angry lady didn’t let up until my sisters had managed to maneuver around her and take refuge inside the store. As my humble but also very wise grandmother used to say, some people need to be taken down a notch or two. Humility does indeed appear to be in short supply in some quarters these days.

Others have found more dramatic ways to show their disregard for public health rules and guidelines that are aimed at providing mutual benefits for all. Two McDonald’s workers were shot in Oklahoma when they asked a customer to leave because of public health rules that had closed the dining area. In another incident, a store security guard was shot and killed in Michigan as he sought to enforce that state’s mandate requiring that all customers wear a face covering.

Final Words

Such examples of arrogance and personal disregard for others are, thankfully, not the norm during these trying days. Now more than ever, regardless of our own personal circumstances, we must remain aware that our actions affect the lives of others.

Only we, as individuals, families, friends and colleagues, can make sure that history speaks of the human kindness we extended to others during this era.


Categories: Health and Well-being, PoliticsTags: , , , , , ,


  1. Traumatic and turbulent times for the States for sure. The coming election has to be the most important in our lifetime, with the consequences for the rest of the world far less the USA.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Denzil,

      Yes, we are navigating through turbulent times which are posing many perplexing questions. As for the coming US election in November, we simply cannot allow the incompetent Trump administration and its Republican enablers in the Senate to have 4 more years to dismantle environmental regulations, destroy labor unions and stack the nation’s highest courts with extremist, right-wing judges, all while enriching themselves at the expense of the poor and middle classes. Thanks, as always, for your insights!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for those thought, Henry. I agree. We are seeing a lot of frustration boiling up. It brings out some of the true nature of us humans. It seems there are two variants of the human species. One values the welfare of friends, loved ones, neighbors, and tries to maximize the common good. The other values freedom at all cost. Nothing is more precious to them. You can’t tell me what to do with my life. The prez appeals to the that group.

    The recent push to make us think of ourselves as ‘warriors for the economy’ takes the focus off of the losses and pain so many are feeling now. People are being forced to choose whether to return to work or lose their unemployment benefits. That is wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jim,

      It does seem like a false choice to me–1) return to work and life as it existed before the pandemic and accept the disruptions that will inevitably come with massive numbers of deaths and disability, or 2) rearrange our priorities and seek to reinvent the ways in which we live and work. In the final analysis, we may not have a choice and it will probably be individuals and businesses that lead the way toward a new normal, and not the many governments that are proving just how inept they are at handling the current crisis. Thanks so much for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The sad part is that most of the protesters and even the supporters of Trump also identify as religious sorts. I wish they remembered that in almost all religions the idea of doing good for the common good is part of their tenets. The idea of taking care of each other, being there to for each other. Capitalism and materialism has gone out of balance to where we can actually have a gospel of prosperity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi @PPJ,

      It seems that many people need to be reminded of our common humanity and the need to work together to solve crises. For decades, Americans have trusted that a new pill (or some other quick fix) will always be available to heal their wounds of the moment without forcing them to make needed changes to lifestyles. It seems we’ve finally run out of luck and must pay the piper. This means making hard decisions and adapting to new ways of living. Some will rise to the occasion and welcome the challenges to forge a new future while others will have to brought along kicking and screaming. I agree that our brand of unrestrained capitalism and the emptiness of mass consumption has led us to this point. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your musings about this time on our blue marble. I like your focus on protecting the most vulnerable from disease. I like the ways in which people are reaching out to help others during the pandemic; donating to food banks, volunteering to fill boxes of dry goods for hungry families, making face masks for hospital workers, neighbors and friends.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree Rebecca. There are so many who are dedicating their time to helping others at the moment. Through their healthier attitudes, these are the citizens who will also find themselves dealing with less anxiety and unhappiness.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I wanted to tell you we’ve found an online Spanish tutor for our child! Our dear friend Antonio in Chile is giving classes online. He was my Spanish teacher and my husband Evan’s in Santiago. If you are interested I could give you his contact information. I think you’d have a lot of fun talking with him.


  5. What bothers me about the attitude of liberty or death is that the death invoked is too often the death of others. It’s like the stand your ground laws which says the individual has the legal right and freedom to kill other people, such as when George Zimmerman hunted down and murdered Trayvon Martin. But apparently there is no clearly protected right and freedom to not be killed, especially if one is black.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Benjamin,

      You hit the nail on the head. There are those who seem to think their rights trump (no pun intended) the rights of others. The ‘give me liberty or give me death’ crowd needs to climb down from their idealistic towers of individualism and realize that their destinies are not separate from the rest of humanity, nor are they separate from the laws of nature. Your last sentence is perfectly stated. Thanks for your insights!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m sympathetic to the liberty crowd. Even if more left-wing, I do have some libertarian tendencies. For example, I don’t feel inclined to judge someone for choosing suicide because they are suffering in some way, assuming they are single and without children to be orphaned.

        On the other hand, it’s different when others are harmed by one’s actions. That even applies to something like laws requiring helmets to be warned while riding a motorcycle since, if someone crashes and gets brain damaged, it’s the rest of society that will pay for their care for the rest of their diminished life.

        The reality is that nothing, not even suicide, has no impact on others. That isn’t to say that the individual shouldn’t have the freedom to make choices about their own life, but it does mean we shouldn’t pretend we are isolated and that are choices don’t have consequences for others.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m very sympathetic to anyone who needs to work in order to support their family. This is a tricky time for decision makers, and I’m not including Trump in that group. I firmly enjoy having the liberty and freedom to make my own choices and go my own way, but I always understood freedom within a democracy to mean that my freedom ends at the point where I begin infringing on someone else’s rights and freedoms. All that can be complicated and messy at times, just as it was with the USA’s founding fathers. Historians tell us that they fought many personal battles (some quite bitter) over whose ideals would be most prominently featured in the various documents setting out their new country’s beliefs and systems. So, maybe our political system has sort of come full circle and is much more like it was back in those early days–just with a lot more lobbyists and vaster sums of money involved.


      • I would note that freedom has a different etymological origin than liberty. From German, freedom is related to the word friend. To be free means to be a member of a free society. But liberty comes from Latin. To have liberty, simply means not personally being enslaved while living in a slave society.

        This is why liberty rhetoric expressed as liberty or die implies such indifference to the liberty of others and the freedom of society as a whole. This relates to the American Civil War as a cultural conflict, as Germanic culture was culture of the southern states. This regional difference persists, although the distinction between freedom and liberty has become increasingly less clear. This confounding of terms has caused much confusion in the public mind about what kind of society we should aspire toward.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My comment got messed up, as part of it got accidentally deleted before posting. I meant to say that Germanic culture had greater influence in the North whereas it was Norman/Cavalier culture in the South.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Timely editorial, Henry. I wish it wouldn’t fall on so many deaf ears, but that’s the state of America today. As I’ve stated before, we can fix stupidity but we cannot fix heartlessness.

    Regarding your insightful perspective of humanity from the vastness of the universe, it is something badly needed in this day and age. I vividly recall driving over Donner Summit in the high Sierra Nevada mountains at night many decades ago with my fiance. The sky was crystal clear. The air was crisp and cold. The stars and planets shined so brightly and colorfully that its beauty stunned me. I stopped the car and started taking short and long exposures of the spectacular display with my Minolta 35mm camera. I conveyed a similar perspective as yours to my fiance; but, disappointingly, she reacted negatively and wanted to leave immediately. She saw no beauty. She appreciated no such perspective. She didn’t even care that I did.

    For far too many people, mundane earthly affairs are their only consideration. Thank goodness Carl Sagan (and others) thought differently.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Robert,

      Can I assume that you didn’t marry this fiance? It doesn’t sound as if you would have been compatible if she wasn’t able to recognize such incredible beauty or at least wasn’t willing to share what was a special moment for you. You don’t need to respond since it’s personal.

      It’s unfortunate that some people simply aren’t interested in anything outside their very narrow cultural interests here on terra firma. For me, I’d gladly give anything to be able to simply view the Earth from space. I’m afraid I’m too old–and too stupid–for astronaut training but what an incredible life experience that would be! Dream on my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Henry, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the craziness going on in the USA. I agree with you all the points you’ve raised. I especially liked the quote from Carl Sagan. Only we, united as one, can save us from ourselves.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Rosaliene,

      Thanks for your comments. Carl Sagan was a remarkable human being and scientist. We need more individuals like him and fewer self-serving business executives and politicians. Enjoy the week ahead!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Hi Henry .. I was just outside looking at the stars. Tonight they are very bright.. like a dusting of the sky in icing sugar so many tiny specks can be seen. Usually it’s not so clear. Or I haven’t seen the sky so lit up for years. Maybe it’s due to less light during this time of Covid .. maybe the sky is just clearer due to the artic wind .. best wishes Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kevin,

      Gad you were able to have perfect atmospheric conditions for some star gazing. The air here has been delightfully clean and clear now for almost 2 months, the same amount of time we’ve been under quarantine orders. At least there are positive aspects to all the economic disruption. Thanks for sharing!


  9. Thanks for this articulate expression of the current state of the rules and the dissenters. It seems we are headed for a big second wave. Although I have been so impressed with Governor Newsom in California, I wonder whether his decision to relax the rules will simply empower those who are skeptical anyway to ignore them. The most caring and sane among are leaders are walking a fine line for sure. Stay safe, Henry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kim,

      Yes, I think Governor Newsom and Washington’s Gov Inslee have both done a very good job so far. It’s probably only going to get more difficult for decision makers as we move into summer and fall. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be in any of their shoes right now. It’s a lot of responsibility to make decisions that severely affect so many people’s lives and livelihoods. Cuidate bien.


  10. Just read through another insightful commentary and those in the comment section. I think I’ve found another blog I like! 🙂

    I was fortunate (just last summer, in fact) to be able to see Andromeda through a telescope. A friend of ours was visiting from New York City – where he can’t see the stars – and he set it up in a dark backyard beside the Bay of Fundy (Nova Scotia). It was an experience I’m not likely to forget, and one which sparked my interest in all things ‘astronomical’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carmen,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Looking into our small bit of the universe can be a life-changing experience. I so happy you got the chance to catch a glimpse.


  11. Henry, your timely post, and the comments that follow emphasize that in America, it’s all about personal choice. Like most people, I totally agree and support the right of each individual to exercise their right of choice … as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. Wearing a mask seems to be a flashpoint for disagreements and I get that. But I have to believe that none of the naysayers have a real, at-risk person in their lives, because it they did, their opinion would certainly change. A mask-free visit to Granny that kills her is a terrible way to learn that the scientists were right after all. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi James,

      Agreed. I’d rather err on the side of caution during these uncertain times. I really don’t care if someone thinks I look silly wearing a mask in a public place. It feels like a gesture of solidarity with and respect for others.

      Liked by 1 person

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