Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What can I focus on that is much, much bigger than me?
The paradox of the individual living in the world, and indeed, the entire universe is both how small we are as individuals–but also how improbable the mere fact of our existence in any time or place is. Those are both facts to be treasured. The vast scale of the universe is staggering, and its mysteries are deeply moving to me–and deeply humbling. Last night, looking at the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, I was looking at two planets that, in terms of the universe, are more or less in the exact same place where I live, but I’ll never see them up close in person. I will never see most of my own planet in person. I will never see most of my own city in person. When I walk down the street, there are houses full of people who I will never meet, each with their own lives and loves and hopes and fears. That makes those connections to those who I do meet–even just once–that more precious, and even more so for those who I have loved–even those who are now lost to me–and serves to augment the connection even with those who I never met–because we did not exist in the same time or space or both–but who have written something, composed something, painted something, built something–or just done something–that has changed my life.
Watching The Mandalorian last night, and seeing a good friend post this morning, I was reminded again how much Star Wars impacted me as a 10-year-old kid in 1977. Even though I loved astronomy and the study of space in my later elementary years, I’d kind of rolled my eyes at my Dad’s like for Star Trek. But Star Wars grabbed me at just the right time. My absolute favourite class photo is the one from the 5th grade, where I’m wearing a Star Wars t-shirt.
I had the action figures in the final years that kids are usually into action figures, and spent hours making up stories with my cousin, turning the spot behind the couch into the Death Star. And now, 43 years later, I see that so many of my current friends speak that same language. We did not know each other as kids, yet I hear so many stories that sound so familiar.
Finding those shared ties, especially as we get older and we have to seek out the occasions when the disparate tapestries of our lives are woven together–even by just a strand or two–is important to me. It is so easy to feel alone in the world. By the time people enter their 50s, most of us have started to lose our parents. Our families have often scattered. We might be lucky enough to be in touch with a friend or two from our childhood, but our paths have diverged. And so often the passions we develop as adults are pursued as isolated individuals. If there is one reason why I believe so strongly in the power of live music and theatre, it’s that–because suddenly, those invisible threads that bind you to complete strangers are made manifest. There is an incredible sense of energy and unity of purpose that cannot be duplicated in simply listening to music or watching a filmed theatre performance. You realize that not only are you united with your fellow attendees, you are in dialogue with the performers, writers, and composers (even those who you never actually met–or even shared a planet with.)
And then, if you are me, you realize how incredibly improbable it is that you are you, in this time, in this place. There is no one exactly like you, and there never will be, yet you are tiny in the sweep of the universe. You are both full of meaning and insignificant at the same time. Your life will not impact the progression of time or the laws of physics–but yet, what you do has meaning and can touch countless other lives, for better or for worse.
The universe continues to sing in tune, even though I know very well that that’s nothing more than my own perception. Still, my CBC radio feed turned up this item about a book by biologist Sean B. Carroll, who “argues that our world, our biological history and genetic diversity, and even our lives are shaped by random events.” I won’t repeat all of the article here–other than to mention I’ll be ordering the book for certain, and not just because the author and I share a last name. (No close relation, as far as I know). But again, somehow I exist right now to type this, and that’s kind of amazing and humbling.
Dave and I had a lovely winter walk today–with snow on the ground, everything felt a bit dampened, muffled, blanketed, even the silence. Felkers Falls has turned into a magical cliffside full of icicles, even though the falls also continues to run. In any normal year, this would have put me into an extremely festive mood. I’d probably be prepping to go to downtown Toronto tomorrow for the Sing-Along Messiah. Instead, I’ll probably watch the filmed version. Oh well. You do what you can, and you find the beauty where you must.
There was also a Toastmasters training session, an item to copyedit, and a couple of introductory sessions on the Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion game I’m starting to play with Dave. The latter looks like it should be fun.