"If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I'll bet they'd live life a lot differently." - Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes."
I love this quote. And I love to look up at the stars. (so much so that I even wrote a song about it) There is something about seeing those multitudes of twinkling lights punctuating an inky black sky that makes me feel like all is right with the world.
It also reminds me that there are forces greater than ourselves at work in the universe, and that as much as we feel we have an influence on things, we don't have as much as we think. And I mean that in a good way.
I was reminded of this fact when my family and I went to a planetarium show about quasars and galaxies. We learned the mind blowing statistic that the universe is populated with at least 10 to the 11th power (that's one hundred billion) galaxies. Not stars, but GALAXIES. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, contains at least 10 to the 11th power (that's still one hundred billion) planets. If you multiply one hundred billion by one hundred billion you get 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 10 sextillion, a number that I honestly cannot even fathom or imagine. I won't even get into how many stars the cosmologists and astrophysicists have seen and know are out there.
So what can these staggeringly enormous numbers teach us? That we are insignificant? Well, in a way, yes, but not in the way that says we should do things like spend all of our money and break laws and be inconsiderate because we're just a blip on the universe's extremely long timeline and incredibly vast expansiveness. (Because while that may be true, in our own small universes there are still things like jail and fines and people's feelings to consider - which can make those blips that are our lives miserable.) I prefer to look up at the stars and have it give me a healthy perspective of what's really important.
Yes, we are each a teeny tiny speck in the universe and ultimately our existence, when measured against the massive timeline of the cosmos, doesn't matter. In that comparison, one human being cannot alter a planetary orbit or affect a moon or star's existence. But that reminder of how truly small we are and how infinitesimal our time is here on Earth should remind us that we have to make the most of whatever time we are given. While we can't literally move mountains, we CAN make a positive difference in the lives of others, who are also here for a blink of time and space. And we should take every opportunity we can to make the world a better place for others, even on a small scale.
On the radio this morning they were having people call in to describe a good deed they had done in the past week and the callers were receiving gift cards and other prizes for these random acts of kindness toward others. One woman anonymously paid for the dinners of a party of seven military members at the restaurant where she was dining. Another threw her arm and leg between the closing doors of the airport train so a person rushing to make the train could make it. Yet another paid for the groceries of the elderly person in front of them in line as they struggled with their food stamps. The list went on and on, and each person was rewarded for their attempts to help others around them in need. While I think honoring people who do nice things is a great idea, as I listened to the segment I couldn't help thinking to myself:
Shouldn't everyone be doing this for each other anyway? Shouldn't these acts of kindness and generosity be the norm, and not something extraordinary to laud and celebrate?
I think that everyone is so caught up in their own lives, getting things done, crossing off lists, checking their social media, etc. that they forget to look around and see what other people might need and how they might be able to help them. That's where looking up at the stars is a good reminder that we are all a part of the same universe, on the same planet, looking up at the same stars. We're all here for a colossally short time, and that time can be used to make our own minuscule world as happy, as healthy, as lovely, and as good as it can be.
It's also interesting to note that many of the stars we see every night actually burned out many years ago, but we can still see their light. That makes me think of each one of us. Every person has a light inside them that we can choose to share to illuminate the darkness that we see in the world. We can shine our own starlight and hopefully shine it enough that our light will last long after we're gone. Like the stars in the sky.
Yes, we're each only a minute speck of dust on the seemingly infinite continuum of time and space. But we ARE HERE, for the time that we are, and it is up to us to make that time as happy and fulfilling and awe-filled, and beautiful as possible. Especially for the next specks of dust that come along. What light can you leave for them?