Warning: this post is dark.
Three weeks were spent mulling over it, debating whether or not this was the right thing to put out to the public, and sinking in and out of depression as I pieced together the draft. It wasn’t easy to write, by any means, because it’s never easy to stare the inevitability of death in the face. However, we all eventually do, although we’d prefer to forget.
There’s something you learn, though, when you examine the abyss. The unfathomable depth of that shadow makes the shining of the light all the more brilliant and precious. I hope you read this with that intent.
To you, on Thanksgiving.
Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by physics, particularly of the astronomical variety.
Early on, while awash in my sense of childhood safety, what lay beyond seemed vast and beautiful to observe through the lens of my father’s telescope and later at a few observatories that I’d visited.
Not to kill the wonderment, but as I get older, I’ve become cognizant of the duality in all things, which arrived out of a lot of life lessons. There aren’t many things in life that you can say are absolutely true, but I feel that this is: nothing is certain or safe.
The moment you realize that what we think is normal, everyday life here on Earth is really us inhabiting a crusted-over, molten rock as it hurtles around a cosmic inferno, which is never fixed and goes through its own cycles and processes, it is both paralyzing and liberating.
Literally anything could happen out there. They are finding new and shocking things every day in that deceptively (un)empty sky.
There’s no guarantee that this planet will exist from one day to the next. Granted, there are some rules, and we call those physics, but something in me wants to grab you by the collar, and while shaking you violently, shout “Despite everything that we accept as rules, they can still be broken!”
Recent studies into the nature of quantum physics are a prime example. At the particle level, multiple possibilities can exist at once. Something can be in two places at the same time. Particles can be tied to each other across the entire expanse of the universe. There’s an unknown force that may or may not have punched holes in the fabric of the universe. Nothing can exist mathematically without an unseen element we dubbed “dark matter,” and a black hole recently ejected a star from its belly at speeds that we struggle to comprehend and for reasons we don’t know. Time as we perceive it may not even be real, and there are bodies and matter in space that defy all scientific understanding. So on and so forth.
Our entire existence is a coin toss, and I won’t lie to you that it has me in an existential crisis. There are days where the anxiety around it is crippling, to say the least.
Even our sun, which we think we know something about isn’t all that predictable. It goes through seasons of its own, which fluctuate and change. Earlier this month, Voyager II escaped the solar system governed by our sun and learned things we didn’t know before about our own solar system, and it was the spark for writing this post.
We already knew that the sun is a big, burning ball of gas, and running through the hottest furnace you can imagine are thrashing torrents of magnetic waves and eruptions. As is crackles and spits, the gas furthest from the center cools and becomes transparent, creating a quasi-surface looking more like this:
Through it gusts violent exhalations of magnetic energy that arc up against the shield of our Earth’s own electro-magnetic field, creating auroras and atmospheric disruptions.
And for eleven billion miles, the hot, pressurized plasma and heat generated by our sun creates friction that pushes against the crushing cold of interstellar space, that bit of room, left between stars, that cushions us from collision and radiation emitted by other cosmic events. A shield from the chaos, our umbrella in the storm. Still, it’s not an infinite guarantee.
Yet somehow, beyond all reasonable belief and probability, that pebble-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things we call home is the perfect distance from it all, set to the perfect temperature, and lusciously beautiful. Or at least it is for now. The same nuclear furnace which could, for all intents and purposes, be our demise, is also our salvation.
That duality of things certainly adds some perspective, as far as what’s meaningful and what isn’t. It makes me cringe at what we do to this planet and to each other, thoughtless, thinking we have license to take any of it for granted.
My anxiety grows deeper at the thought and widens to a chasm of darkest sorrow. Some nights I shake uncontrollably, wracking my brain with it.
However, I don’t mean to bring you down with me. That wasn’t what I set out to do here. The lesson I’ve learned in all of this is that, just like fear can’t abide in the presence of love, neither can anxiety stand in the face of gratitude.
You can’t worry for what you don’t have or what might happen if you are content with what you have now and are resolved to preserve it for as long as you can. On the nights when my thoughts grow dark and my heart aches, I start naming everything that I’m happy to have.
We are at a crucial time. There are a lot of things going wrong in the world, and many, including myself, feel powerless to change it.
Nonetheless, I’m grateful that I’m alive, that I have Now, and I have a body, which I can set in motion, to add to the friction of that shielding sun and beat back the darkness settling over our planet. I’m thankful for the shadow of anxiety, because it’s flashed a light on what matters to me and where the problems lie, and it’s resolved me to do something, as small as that may be, to make a difference in the world.