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.
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.