I read somewhere once that the world would be a better place if people spent more time looking at the stars. I knew immediately that this was the cure to all of our illnesses. Not necessarily because of the time spent in nature, or the quiet meditation that accompanies a session of star-gazing.
No – the world would be a better place if we spent more time looking at stars, quite simply because that is one of the surest ways to remind yourself of how small you are. When I was younger, this actually used to terrify me – thinking about this huge world out there, an entire universe in which I was just a tiny, insignificant speck, located on another tiny, insignificant speck orbiting a sun in a corner of the universe known as the Milky Way.
I don’t know exactly when or how things started to change, but what terrified me when I was younger is now a source of tremendous comfort. I’ve actually been feeling small a lot recently: staring out of a plane window a few months ago as we descended towards Johannesburg, for instance. For a few minutes, it felt as though I was suspended above a monopoly game spread out below me: Tiny dots and specks gradually revealed themselves to be skyscrapers, bridges and highways. This bustling city that can at times seem so imposing was reduced to a board-game. It was all a question of perspective.
More recently, I visited the Cradle of Humankind here in South Africa and got to experience once again the story of how mankind originated. From the big bang, through all the mass extinctions, through thousands of years up to where we find ourselves right now. Placing myself in that context was another very humbling experience which drove home this important point: I’m one tiny part of a story that has been playing itself out for billions of years. One day, my story will cease. But the bigger picture will continue. And where that once might have been a scary thought, it is wondrous now. All of the little daily dramas I encounter, all of the uncertainties, all of the fears just vanish when I place them into that context. Because that’s when I realize, once again, that this too shall pass. Everything eventually will.
And while my story will invariably end, what an amazing opportunity I have to write it anyway. And write it large! Because, in the bigger picture, I know that there is ultimately nothing to lose.
I think we all know this intellectually, but we experience it so rarely. I myself forget much too easily. I lose the courage that I had in those rare moments of perspective when I was flying high and I could clearly see the world for what it truly was.
That’s why I’m resolving to stare at the stars more often. To read more history. To travel.
To feel small.
- On Moon Gazing and Breaking Out of Boxes by Carike Claassen (minusthebox.org)