Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Listen to this essay using the link at the end, seven-minutes.
When I turn around, I see that the sky has turned orange in the few minutes it took to walk down the road. It is dusk, that changing time when anything can happen. Tall eucalyptus trees sway against the sky in the light, then stand sentinel. Before me the world seems to cry out with all the wild changingness of our days. How do we bear it? I wonder as the sky grows yet more orange, the trees a stark silhouette of black outlining the sky like the line of fate on the palm of a hand.
I know that if I stand still and simply watch, in another twenty minutes it will all change again, and stark orange-black will ease into a blue-gray mist. Then, because it is the nature of our world, everything will soon be black, all over again, and for many hours to come. How to bear it?
Beyond the trees, a mile away at the ocean, I can feel the great disk of the Sun sink into the sea. I remind myself, yet again, that it is not the Sun moving towards the horizon, though this is exactly what we see. It is us moving—that is, Planet-Earth-Us—spinning on our planetary axis. We’re actually dancing, both spinning and orbiting. Still, as I walk, all seems calm and ordinary. Nothing is moving but me, the birds, the breezes and the insects. How to fathom that we are, impossibly, spinning at 1,000 miles an hour? Which is the reason the day is changing so wildly before my eyes, why it goes on changing every day, every night, all year long?
And there is more, and I consider this as I walk towards home: we, as in, Planet-Earth-We, are also traveling stealthily in our orbit around the Sun, moving through space at 67,000 miles an hour.
67,000 miles an hour.
How to bear the enormity of it? When this question arises, I imagine my soul is asking how we humans can manage to protect ourselves from the outsized, unimaginable truth of space. The stars, the cosmos, all of it undeniably there, so incontrovertibly wild, so far outside human impact of any kind, so fundamentally exquisite as to be blinding. Almost unbearable—in fact, sometimes it seems the essential question of life is how to be present to such daily, unbounded beauty? I have been asking myself this question for months.
As I continue my slow walk home, reminding myself that the sunset is created by the movement of Us-the-Earth and not the Sun, there is also this fact which is confoundingly true: the Sun actually is moving. We are not orbiting a stationary center. The Sun and our entire solar system of planet-cousins are together orbiting our Milky Way galaxy at 448,000 mph. Okay.
Just then I don’t remember the precise speeds, which are current calculations by physicists, and I imagine might change in the future. But you get the picture. In such a state, in all this movement, how can we imagine that stasis is even possible? That we are ever unchanging, standing still, stuck? How can we not know that we are always dancing?
Modern physics teaches that the force holding atoms together is at essence vibration and movement, creating things like mountains, trees, whales, and my hands—along with our cousin planets Venus and Mars moving through space with us like siblings clinging together in the Big Night. And how do we begin to comprehend the infinitude of 100 billion galaxies in the Universe—physicists’ best guess as of today—when we are suddenly in astronomer Carl Sagan territory and he is trying to help us understand just how unreasonably large is the Universe of stars and dark matter and endless movement of light and dark?
I have heard cosmologists speak of the essence of the Universe as a great endless hum, or song, or outbreath, and this brings us to the realm of the gods, which is what I think as I arrive at my door. The great unseen forces of our lives, the deities, the Great Mother, the She-Bear Ursa Major of the night sky—these are our outlets, our answer to the question how do we bear it? How can we be present with all this beauty? We fling out hearts out to Great Spirit, God, the All That Is, and we feel the hum at the essence of it all. It's there now, in my muscles and bones—and that, that is the spirit of it, no answers, just this attempt at reckoning, just this speck of energy at her table writing by candlelight, flinging her soul out to what she can only call the Heavens: I'm here. I'm trying to see you.
(Photo of Milky Way by Denis Degioanni, other images stock photos)
To listen to "Walking In Space," press the red button.