I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Mystery of time and space

Spiral galaxy 56 million years distant

Every morning when I first get up, part of what I start the day with is a glimpse of the current Astronomy Picture of the Day. It helps me to get some perspective on what is happening here on Earth, to see reminders of the enormity of the Universe as we know it. When I saw this beautiful galaxy, the light of which takes 56 million years to reach Earth, I wondered what it looks like today. We'll never know, because we are stuck in a tiny bubble of time, and what does "today" mean in galaxy terms?

I feel very fortunate to have lived during a time when the Hubble Telescope (which took this picture) will be replaced with the James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently on its way to a distant spot at least a million miles from Earth. What will it be able to see?

Webb will be able to see what the universe looked like around a quarter of a billion years (possibly back to 100 million years) after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies started to form. (NASA)

I find that fascinating, since time seems to be a constant from my little human point of view. But obviously it's not. The year when I was born almost eighty years ago will be lost in the mists of time. But it will be the first number in my very own lifespan, with the second number being the year when I will die. The only thing I know for sure about it all is that I will have been blessed with a full lifespan, going from birth through a well-lived full life. Not everybody is given such a gift, and I do want to acknowledge that, even if my life ends today, it has been a complete and full one. 

This past week Sidney Poitier died at the age of 94, having also been given the gift of a full life. He saw so much change in the world from the time he was born until he died. He fathered six daughters and made numerous movies that gave him the opportunity to be the first Black actor to receive the Best Actor Award in 1964. 

We are imperfect creatures. We are, that's what it is. But we should try reaching for the better you, the better me. There is pain and difficulties, and there is fear and all the kinds of things that we live with. But it is through them we have to reach. We have to reach out, not just to each other, but to the universe. —Sidney Poitier

He only received a year and a half of schooling and taught himself to read and write. Not only did he excel at acting, but he ended up writing his own memoir, which I intend to read in the near future. He's someone who will not be forgotten soon, and part of that is because he was given the gift of a full life. I remember how devastated I was when Chadwick Boseman died at 43, a man filled with promise in much the same way as Sidney was. But he was not given the full measure of life. It's truly a gift to have been given more time to live, but we all must deal with the finality of our short lifespan.

And looking out at the stars and distant galaxies certainly changes the way one looks at things, at least for me. What does my tiny life mean in the full scope of that galaxy? Not much, really, but it's everything to me. It's all I've ever known, and I also have been reaching out to the universe to find some meaning in my own life. My most recent endeavor has been learning more about Buddhism and its philosophy, and I find the concept of a continuing mindstream to be fascinating, although my skeptical self considers it unlikely. Not that it matters, really, because what is true and real is that the self that writes here, that drives my consciousness, is very much limited in time and space. What happens after I die will not matter much in the full scheme of things, but each one of our individual lives is all we have known, and what comes after isn't really relevant to our living each day to the fullest.

One of the concepts in Buddhism that I really resonate with is living one's life with loving kindness towards all other living beings. Every morning when I meditate, I say a Buddhist prayer for all sentient beings to be free of disease, pain and suffering. It's a very good reminder that although I cannot solve all the suffering in the world, I can point myself in the direction to remember that each of my own actions has consequences, and that if I act with loving kindness, I have done something good in the world for today. In my own small way, I am reaching for the stars.

Gosh. I have been sitting here for awhile now, with the light from the screen staring up at me from the laptop, wondering where to go from here. And nothing is coming to me, so it must mean I've finished this post for today. Even if it's not much, not very profound, when you write from the heart, sometimes the chambers don't quite fill to the top before the next heartbeat comes rushing in. I feel the call to begin the rest of my Sunday routine. I overslept to begin with, so I didn't get the chance to ponder about what to write for long. 

My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, my tea is gone, and the day beckons. I am sending you, my dear virtual friends, love and light and a fervent wish for you to have a wonderful day and week ahead. Be well until we meet again.


Barbara R. said...

May you have a week (one possible period of time) of joyful and fulfilling experiences, and I look forward to reading what you share next week!

Linda Reeder said...

I am not an early riser, and today there is no need to hurry at all. The light in my eyes now is not just the screen, but the newly risen sun, the bright colors of the sunrise I could barely glimpse through my tree curtain now faded. It's going to be a sunshiny day!
I am going to try to go for a walk. My hip tendonitis is really bothering me, and I have nerve pain down my leg. I do not want to let this discomfort invade my brief time on this earth. Yet I feel I am on hold for seeking any other help until my valve replacement. COVID is now a threat again.
I say these things not to complain, but because I have been thinking a lot about how many years I have left and in what kind of shape I'll be as I live them. I want more good years, not just for me, but because I have people who don't want to lose me.
Thanks for another Sunday morning contemplative post. Be well. May kindness be returned to you as you so freely give it.

Elephant's Child said...

Hooray for loving kindness - for ourselves as well as others.
Time is a flexible trickster isn't it?
Have a great week dear friend.

Rian said...

"May I be at peace, May my heart remain open,
May I awaken to the light of my own true nature
May I be healed, May I be a source of healing for all beings."

This is a loving kindness meditation that I say each day.

"... and I do want to acknowledge that, even if my life ends today, it has been a complete and full one." I feel the same, DJan.

Marie Smith said...

A woman I am friends with on Facebook writes her day’s plan every morning. She ends her post with “Be kind, life is short.” So true! If we all lived that way, what a great world this would be! Take care, Jan! Thanks for the reminder!

Galen Pearl said...

What a lovely birthday gift to me today. I loved your cosmic reflections. Thank you.

Arkansas Patti said...

I know I am really anxious to see what the Webb telescope sees in about 6 months. The hard to comprehend thing is that what we probably see will be all ready be billions of years old.
We are babies, just specks in time. Still, you and I have been blessed with a lot of years human wise. May we do as well with the time ahead as we did with those behind.

John's Island said...

After reading today's Eye, I asked Google how long it takes for the Sun's light to arrive on Earth. "The Sun is 93 million miles away, so sunlight takes about 8 minutes to get to us." So, about 8 minutes compared to 56 million years. And we humans claim to understand the evolution of the Universe. :-) Another great post for reflection.

William Kendall said...

He was a great actor. The world is less bright with him gone.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Have a wonderful week! 94 is a good long life, CBS this morning had a bit about him on their program it was very interesting.

Red said...

I disagree with your statement that you have nothing profound to stay. This was a pretty deep post as you compare your time on this earth to the time of the solar system. We have to get to a point where we accept our own end and then we can enjoy the remainder of our life.

Anvilcloud said...

You have caused me to remember my teaching days. One book we studied was In the Heat of the Night. Then I would show the Sidney Poitier folk of the same title. The kids seemed to like both, and I certainly did.

Good ruminations. I don’t think there is any meaning to it all except that which we chose to make of it. We lucked out to be sentient beings who can appreciate things like the vast cosmos. Our fellow creatures cannot do that, and for all we know, we are the only beings in the whole universe who can reflect like this.

Mary said...

I found this to be one of your best posts. I too am very interested in cosmology and the vastness of space and how small our entire galaxy is in relation to the whole universe, which the great part no humans will ever even know exist. But like you say as tiny and insignificant as we are, we must live it to the best and always strive to be good and to me personally, appreciate nature.

I thought you might find this link interesting, if you allow links. I also loved what .Sidney Poitier said.


gigi-hawaii said...

This is an excellent post! I liked Sidney Poitier as an actor and as a human being. 84 years of living - that is just wonderful. I hope we can beautiful images of the universe from that new telescope.

Tabor said...

My husband and I are big science fiction fans and have so much fun thinking about time and space and how we started and where we are heading. It makes is so small and insignificant, but that does not frighten me.

Margaret said...

Living a full yet mainly healthy life would be my dream. I'd like to sign up to live like Betty White, then die in my sleep. My advancing age, tragedies among my friend group and Covid have made mortality something I think about more and more.

Linda Myers said...

I find it all wonderful and miraculous - how small we are, how vast the universe is. For myself, I am most content when I am living in this very moment, being the best I can be. I wrote this recently, for what it's worth:

Spirit of the Universe
Thank you for all that I am and all that I have
Let me be generous with my gifts and
Let me accept my limitations with grace
May I keep an open heart and mind
and may I love without reservation.