Seeing Something or Nothing
Last Tuesday morning I got back from a 7 city/12 night whirlwind tour of the US to see people before I leave again for 6 months. It started as just a roadtrip to Nashville for the solar eclipse, but turned into more after getting a travel voucher from Delta for being bumped earlier in the summer.
Quick tour recap: Fly to Chicago for a night, drive to Bowling Green, Kentucky the next day after a couple stops at distilleries, Nashville for three nights, fly to Durham for brunch with my sister, fly to DC that afternoon to have dinner, fly to NYC the next day for dinner, drinks and brunch, fly to the Bay Area for 3 nights of meals, darts and hiking, red eye back to MSP.
I was a little worried that the hectic travel or social schedules would wear on me quickly (life's rough all over), but breezed through and said "see you in a year" to some close friends. Then I had 48 hours in the Twin Cities to regroup and now I'm in Wisconsin spending Labor Day weekend with the fam.
But man, that eclipse... We spent the morning and afternoon between the scorching observation deck at our AirBnB and the blasting A/C inside. For the 20 minutes before totality we all sat back on the deck and watched the sun slip away with Brian Eno at the helm. And when the world went dark with our glasses on, the crickets and birds signaled us to take them off and soak in the green sky while cheers echoed through the neighborhood. We spent the first minute staring at a black circle with white hot electrical trim, the next 30 seconds hugging, and the entire time chuckling to ourselves in awe.
I'm a fan of feeling small. Not the kind of demeaning small that is all too common in our culture, but the kind that completely divorces you from yourself and society and the moment. The kind of small you feel staring out the window of an airplane or from the top of a mountain or across a huge body of water. A fraction of the kind I imagine an astronaut feels staring back at Earth.
Those moments are so piquant because they remind us that time is fundamentally contradictory: it's an infinite expanse *and* an unrecoverable blip all in one. What are we supposed to do with that?
The solar eclipse was a sliver of a moment in the celestial dance that's happened millions of times before and will happen a million times more. But for us mere mortals it's an event we may have to wait a lifetime for. A common demarcator regardless of age, politics, gender, religion, sexuality, education, economics, and on and on and on.
It's easy for the familiar to become mundane, to stop seeing the people and places we encounter on a regular basis. And, at least for me, that can often lead to a disassociation with them; a feeling that I'm autonomously moving through space and time, regardless of what's going on around me.
It might make sense that feeling small further prevents you from seeing something in your day to day. There's a comfort in focusing on our own little spheres with blinders on when the vastness of life and the world become all too apparent, to go from point a to point b to point c without seeing anything other than the points. But I've found the opposite is true for me: feeling like a blip on the path of time somehow turns feeling small into feeling bigger.
Part of that incongruence comes from sharing those small moments with someone else; sharing a profound feeling of insignificance with a fellow blip. But there's also a certain comfort in the world continuing to do amazing things regardless of what we blips are up to. It's an honor to bear witness to some moments, common or rare; to see something when we've gotten too accustomed to seeing nothing.
Of course, life is not made up solely of big moments making us feel small. There are plenty of small moments and plenty more that quickly fade into forgotten. Nor does anything good in the human world happen on its own, the current state of American society being a painfully obvious example.
It is far better for our happiness and our connection to the world to see *something* than it is to see nothing. When we lose track of that, it's important to allow ourselves to be jarred back into focus by the stars or an ocean or a stranger or a loved one. And it matters because despite our small stature in the expanse of space and time, there are important things to do with our own precious blip before the everything moves on without us.