The Interstellar Sea

“…whenever I’m down, you know, I’m thinking, “And still they move, 35,000 miles an hour, leaving our solar system for the great wide open sea of interstellar space.”

Ann Druyan, speaking of the Voyager Spacecraft

 

It started as a podcast, an old podcast from Radiolab. The host, Jad Abumrad, was interviewing Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow, on how she curated an incredible collection of sounds from human cultures around the world to be placed on a golden record and sent out to space on the Voyager Spacecraft. Do you know about this? It was 1977, and the Voyager Interstellar Message Project was meant to be a missive to the future, to faraway worlds, to any possible extraterrestrial life that might intercept it out in the universe. Although this was an old episode, Jad was sharing it again because he had listened to it with his son, and he said it was oddly comforting. “Comforting?” I wondered.

And then Ann Druyan began talking about the summer of 1977. It was the summer she and Carl Sagan fell in love. It was the summer where she and her project partners sought to record the sounds on this earth that would best represent us, humans, inhabitants of this beautiful earth. On the record were the sounds of the ocean, the wind and thunder, humbpack whales and other animals, a kiss, and the first words of a mother to her newborn baby. They added world music, and greetings from people in fifty-five languages and many other sounds. Druyan was very humble about the task she set out to complete, freely admitting how daunting it was to choose the soundtrack of our world to send out to someone who might hear it a million years from now.

Her words captivated me. And that comfort the host spoke of–I got it. The great wide sea of interstellar space–think of it. The spaceship patiently pushing on beyond the limits of imagination. The endless voyage, the quest, the beings that may someday intercept this golden record (or not); it dwarfs my small cares. Mary Oliver once said, “Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity.” Yes, that is the heart of it. In my small small quarantine world, in my daily immersion into the artificial world of the internet and other media, I’ve lost my focus. When is the last time I gazed at the stars? Eternity, the universe, Voyager floating right now, 42 years and 13 billion miles later, the golden record waiting to be played. It’s huge, and it is coupled with the audacious hope that jettisoned that craft beyond our galaxy. This is exactly what I need to ponder right now.

The Golden Record. Found at https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/golden-record/golden-record-cover/

The Fourth Mile

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” — William James

It’s the season, and I’ve worked my way up to three miles. Pandemic bound, running sets me free. That sun! The green green fields! But it’s a little trial many days and I argue with myself about the timing, the conditions, the wind (Do I really want to be out there today?). And then there are the miles themselves.

On a good year, I’ll add a five mile run once a week, as an addendum to my usual three. And that is where everything changes. I never knew until I hit five that three really is a struggle. Here’s how a three miler goes: I’m eager, I start with a smile. I run. I’m feeling kind of slow. I think about how far I’ve gone and how much further to go. I thank God for my podcast or audio book because it distracts me. I’m steady for the last half mile. And then I’m done.

But five miles! Here’s how it goes: I’m slow, rolling through all the milestones. I’m doubting myself. And then I hit the fourth mile, and everything clears. Suddenly it’s easy. I smile. That amazing wind in my hair! My thoughts brighten. I can turn off this podcast and look at the river going by. Is it endorphins kicking in? Who cares? The fourth mile comes and I’m not running, I am the run. What magic is this? The fifth breezes by.

I know, at 57, I’m lucky to be a runner. This season, it’ll take a while to hit five, and it’s been a year or two. But I’m ready.

remember

Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?

Charles Bukowski

I’ve been reflecting since yesterday on heartstretching moments. There’s the time spent with my own family, my husband, my kids and their kids. And there are the moments with my school kids, virtual now. I miss them and worry about them. Time with friends. Small moments with strangers. Watching my cat, Grayling, sleep.

And then there are moments oceanside, now just a dream and a memory. And hikes on paths shadowed with oaks and beech, or faraway trails stretching from the heights to the horizons. All of these things open my heart as wide as the farm fields down the road. But only if…

I’m present. Only if I remember who I am and what I am about. There’s time now for reflection. I acknowledge my privilege in this time we are in, this time between times. How lucky I am to be well fed and snug at home. But reflecting on huge things, things of the spirit, helps me remember. “Do not forget who you are:” Laila Gifty Akita says, “a sacred soul.” I think about these times, about our own impermanence, and my heart cracks wide open. How much time do we really have? Who am I and what am I about?

Now. Now I’m present, and my heart is open to meet the other.

small things

We sometimes underestimate the influence of little things.

Charles W. Chestnutt

It’s the time we are being given that matters. What I love about this time we are in, this time between times, are the long walks outdoors. In spring, in realschool time, I often stay in my classroom until five or six. But no more. With Mondays and Fridays for planning and recording, I can leave at three. Weekends are free. So much time to breathe in fresh air. And notice.

The thing that charms me these days are the little shoots of life everywhere I look. Small tender buds on the trees. Clutches of tiny unfolding leaves. Clouds of little white anemones floating above the forest floor. I’ve already gotten down on my knees and greeted my favorite wildflower with a kiss. Why not? No social distancing here.

There is one more small thing happening, and it’s a distance dilemma. There’s a tiny little granddaughter growing right now, and she is due to make her appearance June 5th. The fact that I am so far away from my daughter and that I cannot hug her or get close to whisper to that baby in her belly is a sorrow. My invitation to the delivery room has been withdrawn due to circumstance. Now I’m consulting wise medical mamafriends, and I’m plotting to greet this small one as soon as I can. The smallest thing: the greatest joy.