A Mote Of Dust

"...That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives...

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds...."  Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan, Random House, 1994

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my son, who lives about 200 miles south of me. He lives in a very small village near a college town in southern Ohio. There he, among other things, is pursuing a Master's degree. While visiting with him, he showed me a PowerPoint presentation that he had created for a class assignment.

His presentation was based on Carl Sagan's book "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future In Space" in which Sagan looks at the dimensions of our universe and at the tiny mote of dust "suspended in a sunbeam" that we all call home. His presentation made me think. I am still thinking about it. I written down some of the thoughts that his presentation evoked.

Not many of us, in today's world, can escape reading, seeing or hearing about the horrors that humankind inflicts upon our planet and upon members of its own species. Sadly, it has become a way of life; so much so that we come to expect it like we expect the sun to rise or night to come each day.

We've become, for the most part, numb to, even expecting, the murder and horrors which members of our species, inhabitants all of this speck of dust, inflict upon each other in the name of one cause or another. The layers of their humanity are peeled back and they become oblivious to the suffering and needs of others. Wars are fought, men and women killed, children starve and made homeless - all in the name of power, glory, or money. And even more ironically; many times in the name of God or love.

When viewed from four billion miles away, the earth is virtually invisible. As the picture at the top of this page shows: we are but a tiny speck momentarily caught in the glint of a reflected sunbeam. One grain of sand on an infinite beach on the shores of the ocean of time and space. But, this mote of dust is all we have. All we have ever known.  Our tiny speck floats alone in the vast, cold, infinite universe. We all sail on this tiny blue ship across a dark, deep, unending sea.

Our small and trivial existence in the vastness of the universe goes unnoticed by those who plunder the earth and pillage humanity in their quest for power, glory, and wealth. Strange. All of us share the same common bond: Whether we are kings or peasants we all live and die; our lives a brief and momentary flash in the grandness of the cosmos. We all share the same mote of dust. We have no place else to go.

But what if we did have somewhere else to go? What if we could colonize Mars? Would things be any different there? Humankind would bring with it the same distorted primal passions that have guided our species to what we've become. Leaving one mote of dust for another would not change humankind - the only change would be a change of scenery.

I wonder what our pale blue dot would be like today if all the money the governments of this mote of dust, have spent on killing and destruction, would have been spent on finding a cure for cancer, AIDS or heart disease? What if a significant portion of it had been spent on finding cures for myriad childhood illnesses that kill so many children every year? I wonder what our little mote of dust would be like if that money would have been spent helping the millions of children who are hungry, sick or starving? How much could we have helped the millions of others who suffer without hope on this tiny mote of dust we call "home".

I wonder about a lot of things. I think about something that Robert F. Kenney said: "Some men see things as they are and ask 'why?'. I see things as they could be and ask, 'why not?'.

And, there is much beauty in our world. No doubt. And, there is an importance to our species although I cannot guess what it may be. There is good in each f us, and much of it seems to go unnoticed and unrewarded. We are all unaware prisoners hurtling through the universe on a tiny mote of dust. Not a single one of us even knows what the next moment will bring, let alone what will come tomorrow.

As Carl Sagan so eloquently points out: "Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot." Rivers of blood continue to flow as mankind continues its relentless pursuit of power, glory, wealth and domination; all inconsequential in the grand and infinite universe of unending space and infinite time.

For those whose lives are touched by the tragedies and horrors of war and those who suffer from the ravages of disease; this mote of dust is not inconsequential or trivial.  Those who have looked into the eyes of a dying child can tell you that the only universe that matters is the universe of that poor child's life.

Tonight I looked up at the stars again and thought how special we might be and how inconsequential we might be. I thought about the young soldiers who risk their lives for one cause - or another. I thought about famous movie stars; and billionaires; and starving children. I thought corporate CEOs who are whisked by jet from here to there. I thought and factory workers and housewives and old folks. I thought about the sick. I thought about the dying. I thought about those who were dear to me that are now dead and whose only consequence to the cosmos might be that I think of them.

And, I thought about people like me. I thought about Carl Sagan's beautifully written words: "On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives..." on this tiny mote of dust. The pale blue dot. The planet Earth. The only home we've ever known. Maybe it's not so inconsequential after all. It is something to think about.

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