Why it’s okay to feel utterly insignificant

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Image: Pixabay

Sometimes it’s hard not to believe we’re the centre of the universe.

Not literally, of course. We’ve known the truth about the rotation of the planets since Copernicus, since Galileo Galilei was questioned by the Inquisition* and put under lifelong house arrest for supporting the solar-centric theory.

The thing is, knowing the universe doesn’t rotate around us doesn’t stop the feeling that it does.

Don’t judge yourself too harshly for believing all life would surely fall to pieces if you didn’t move among it. After all, from the second we’re born, we rattle around in out own heads, interpretting the world the only way we know how – we learn the colour of a buttercup through our eyes, a baby’s cry through our ears, the resistance of a lover’s skin through our fingertips, the flavour of tears through our tongues, not through anyone else’s … Who can blame us for having an overblown idea of our own importance.

But then, you look up …

On a frosty morning last Wednesday at around 6.20 a.m GMT, I stood on our doorstep. Frost prickled the lids of the wheely bins, the roofs of the parked cars. Some of the neighbours were up, kitchen lights too dim to have much impact on the pre-dawn darkness. I was still in my slippers, but the creeping cold didn’t drive me to the fire and a second cup of tea.

I stared into the clear, orange black sky over Bristol. There were stars – winking suggestively – and more sober planets, with their steady, unswerving gaze. I was scanning the South West, about four fists above the horizon – waiting.

Then I saw it, the brightest object in the sky – as brilliant as any star, unblinking as the nearest planet, moving fast as a jet plane in a shallow arc across the black. I called my son, who tried to take a photo and failed. I rushed upstairs to find my husband – still sleepy, still ruffled and pillow-creased – and pulled him to the bedroom window, where he glimpsed the gleaming speck before it vanished behind the houses.

It was no comet, no shooting star trailing dust and gas.

It was the International Space Station, whizzing past at 7.66 kilometres (about 5 miles) per second. Inside the station, seeing a fresh sunrise over the earth every 92 minutes, is Britain’s own Tim Peake.

It’s a lovely thing, the ISS, for not only does it show what human beings are capable of, it shows a level of cooperation between nations rarely seen on earth.

It also puts a single human life into some very deep perspective.

So today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is

COSMOS,

meaning the universe and all of creation.

Because, when you’re standing on a frozen doorstep in Bristol and look up to see such an immense and complicated product of human endeavour – and it’s completely dwarfed by the huge, star-stuffed sky, the cosmos really puts you in your place.

***

*Monty Python said that you never expect the Inquisition, but considering the control the Church had over daily life in the 16th century, Galileo must have done. Which makes him a very brave man, if you ask me.

I could have snuck in the Spanish Inquisition sketch here, but couldn’t resist The Universe Song instead … Pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, cos there’s bugger all down here on earth

Do visit the NASA site to find out when the ISS will next go flying over where you live. There’s also some amazing photography of the planet and tweets from the crewmen – yes they can tweet from orbit. Weird.

Thanks to Kat, the founder of the W4W feast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Why it’s okay to feel utterly insignificant

  1. Ha, I’m just trying to knock my next Mslexia guest post into shape. I’m currently stuck at the bit where I talk about people not responding to a story and I wonder what I’ve done to offend people, when what’s most likely happening is that people have lives and can’t just drop whatever they’re doing just because there’s a new story up. It’s difficult to remember sometimes that the world doesn’t revolve around me 😀

    I did try to spot the ISS when it was visible from here before Christmas, but I swear every afternoon ten minutes before it was supposed to pass, the clouds came back. Shame, I wanted to show it to the kiddo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean about posts that are ignored, or almost ignored. It can be frustrating when you’re proud of something, polish and hone it, send it out … Only for it to disappear into a void! You’re right, though – I noticed how low my stats were over Christmas, just because people have so many other things to do. I regularly comment on a handful of blogs, but never read all of the ones I follow, just because I run out of time.
      And if you can spot the ISS, I highly recommend it. I found it strangely moving, I must say. 🙂 Loving your Mslexia posts, BTW!

      Like

  2. “Because, when you’re standing on a frozen doorstep in Bristol and look up to see such an immense and complicated product of human endeavour – and it’s completely dwarfed by the huge, star-stuffed sky, the cosmos really puts you in your place.” THAT is an awesome visual!

    Shall I tell you what made me realize I’m not the center of the world? Trains. We live right by the tracks and every now and then I’ll wake when they go through in the night, and one night I thought how oddly incredible it was that the world was capable of going on around me while I was sleeping…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. Yes, you’re right. Infrastructure in general shows how tiny we are in the world. The problem is, I suppose, that many people interpret their insignificance in a negative way. But sometimes it’s a good thing. I remember when I was a teenager and had something particularly stressful I had to do – public speaking, an exam – I would remind myself that in a hundred years no one would care if I fluffed a speech or didn’t do so well in an exam. I guess that attitude could mean that you don’t try so hard, but for me, it just took the edge of my nerves and meant I wasn’t actually sick in the exam hall!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “many people interpret their insignificance in a negative way.” I’m realizing far too late in life that I’ve been doing this since I was very young. It’s the hardest attitude to overcome…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s easy to do, after all we all need a certain level of significance to function – we all need to be important to someone or something, or we feel worthless.
        But the thing I love about studying the universe (in my dunderheaded, amateurish way) is that it puts my fears about my own mortality into perspective. The life and universe will go on without me – for thousands, possibly millions of years. I find the cycle of life and death comforting – this glorious planet will go on for some time yet and that’s a lovely thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a lovely, lyrical post, Lynn, love it. When we lived under the dark skies of West Wales instead of the bright lights of Bristol we were constantly in awe seeing the ISS, the edge-on Milky Way view of the galaxy, shooting stars, constellations in breathtaking clarity — and we remain awed by the incomprehensible immensity of the impersonal cosmos even as we navel-gaze in our new surroundings.

    I also empathise with calensariel’s response to trains — there’s something both comforting and frightening about them in the way they slip in and out of our perceptions. Reminds we of Bede’s parable of the swallow flying through the bright mead-hall and back out into the pitch blackness of the night, a metaphor for our sojourns on earth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That big, black sky sounds amazing! Bought my husband a telescope a few years ago and we regularly nip out into the back garden to look at the skies. Even in the middle of Bristol we’ve seen the stripes of Jupiter and the Galilean moons, the blur of the Orion nebula. Caught a few meteor showers too. Husbands dream is to visit a Dark Sky Park and have a proper view. It was fantastic to see the ISS – it’ll stick with me, I think.
      I like the Bede parable – what a lovely and fitting image the swallow in the mead hall is. Those few moments of warmth and brightness – and mead! – bookended by darkness. That about sums it up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Brecon Beacons, just across from you (only an hour’s drive!) is a mecca for Dark Skies enthusiasts, isn’t it, you couldn’t go wrong there. Very jealous of your husband’s telescope, I’d welcome having even a halfway decent one 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, thanks for the suggestion – we must go there one day. And his telescope isn’t the best – only a fraction as strong as the ‘serious’ ones you see the Sky At Night enthusiasts use. But it’s helped open the sky up a little for us. Of course, husband’s always on the look out for a more powerful one at a decent price 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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