I came to an odd conclusion a little over a week or so ago about stars. I was in the Berkshire Mountains late at light staring up at the sky while the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower trail across the sky. I’ll admit that it’s fun to watch lights streak across the sky, but I eventually found the experience rather hollow.
Why the stargazing left me feeling so empty had been rolling around in my head until today. As far as watching natural phenomena are concerned I’d much rather watch waves on a beach, with the shifting tidal rhythms and salty spray, or the patterns of rain tapping out a score on a glassy puddle. You would think – or I did at least – that the more rare event would hold more sway, and that I’d be excited by the meteor shower that comes for a few days annually over things I could say practically a dozen times a year. That’s when I made a realization:
I could care less about space.
Growing up in the 1960s, I remember when TVs were rolled into classrooms (a novelty then) so that we could watch the original moon landing in stunning black and white. The president had made a pledge that we would go to the moon, and we did. At night we were reminded that when we looked int he sky at the moon, all those impossible miles away, that there was a human being up there. Dutifully I looked, and considered it, and occasionally still do think about that fact, but it has never inspired me to consider the vastness of space.
I knew kids who wanted to grow up to be astronauts and not a one of them did. Heck, I don’t think any of those wannabe astronauts I knew still wanted to go to space by the time they reached junior high school. Some of them wanted to send things into space, but go there themselves? Never.
It’s taken until now to get a handle on why, and I think it can be easily summed up by the thought that there’s nothing out there. Space has held many hopes and dreams for people of exploration and perhaps connection with other life forms, but that yearning leaves me cold. We haven’t fully come to understand our own planet, our neighbors, our own DNA, and yet the skies are supposed to hold the answer to the riddles we seek. We don’t even know a fraction of what goes on in the oceans, something we can physically explore right now, and yet people keep looking to the skies for answers to the mystery of life in the solar system.
Heck, we don’t even fully understand how aspirin works.
I admit, NASA and other space exploration programs have managed some pretty nifty things. The Voyager spacecrafts have left the solar system and are still sending back data. We’ve found ice on Mars. Very cool, but I’d rather we understood dolphins brains, or why humans are predisposed toward war and what we can do to stop it. I prefer things a little closer at hand, more personal, more terrestrial.
I know the stars will always stand as a place of hope and wonder. Sometimes, however, I wonder what would happen if humans focused that same hope and wonder more locally.