So it seems like the country is going to hell in a weirdly hyped hand basket. Maybe the whole world, even.
No matter what you are for, there are others vehemently against it. More than ever, things that seem obvious, like two and two equals four, are being challenged from all points on the spectrum: “Four is just a concept,” “numbers are relative,” “it’s not really two and two,” “it depends on your point of view.”
So many voices shouting so loudly and shrill, often with such overwrought force and media-driven hysteria, my throat aches even trying to reply, like stupidly attempting to have a serious discussion at a decibel-pounding after-hours club. One feels compelled to pull back, Balkanize and stop even trying to communicate ideas, thoughts, beliefs.
It wasn’t quite dark enough outside, and the New York City sky is among the most light polluted in the world, so not a single star could be seen. Yet what I saw through that telescope blew my mind.
What’s needed is to instantly get away from it all. Get some perspective. See your life as part of a much, much bigger, timeless continuum and way less all-important. But getting some actual, physical distance is essential—not just from your immediate surroundings, politics, routine, future, problems, this country… but also from this planet!
“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well,” wrote Douglas Adams in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, “on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”
Sorry, but I don’t have the quarter million dollars that it would cost me to grab a seat aboard the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two. Besides, who knows when it will really be ready for takeoff? Months from now? Years? We need to leave Earth now, and I found a simpler and much cheaper way to leave…
About a month ago, while strolling along Manhattan’s glorious Highline at sunset, my wife and I happened to pass a small group of amateur astronomers. How did I know they were amateur astronomers? Because each had a telescope and a small crowd of excited Highliners surrounded them, forming loose lines waiting to get a free glimpse. Also because I asked one and he told me: They were members of The Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.
Okay, this might not sound so awesome to everyone, but I have had a lifetime jones for all things astronomy. As a kid I would lie alone in my backyard on summer nights and record the exact times I saw various moving objects float across the sky. Then I’d call the Griffith Park observatory and, at least back then, be able to speak to someone who could confirm that what I had seen was, in fact, a particular satellite. I knew the names of a bunch of them. (I would also will any potential aliens to come down and choose me to communicate with, sadly to no avail.)
I relished learning about our solar system. I quickly memorized the acronym “Many Very Early Men Ate Juicy Steaks Using No Plates,” which was how I remembered the planets in our solar system in order of their proximity to the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Asteroids (not a single planet but a belt of approximately one million, small, rock-like objects), Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (recently sadly downgraded—thanks, Neil deGrasse Tyson!).
But I digress. On that perfect warm evening my wife and I waited, and within moments I too was looking in the eyepiece of a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. It wasn’t quite dark enough outside, and the New York City sky is among the most light polluted in the world, so not a single star could be seen. Yet what I saw through that telescope blew my mind.