Sometimes I try to remember, or to imagine, a perfectly clean slate, both ahead of me, and behind.
The decisions I have made, my experiences, all the things that have formed me into the man who sits here now, writing this. The past that subtly cocoons my back, drawing the hazy outlines of my future. The decisions and actions of all other people that constrain space — that define so many things for me.
Sometimes we stare wide-eyed in simple awe at what unfolds before us. And what is it that we see? What is it that is left to us, to inherit and to navigate along our little journey?
My sister Kim and her husband Jon just had a baby. His name is Bennett. I met him on his birth day. He was so small. I didn’t want to hold him, but Jon made me. Bennett was wrapped snugly in a warm blanket and wore a soft scullcap hat which i couldn’t tell, was too small or too large.
He didn’t seem at all keen on leaving the warm isolation of Kim’s belly. In fact, he had to be forced to come into our world. Not too bad a trade, though, since Kim was the one “footing the bill” for his over-indulgent stay. But then the deed is done – the world has Bennett now.
Jon said he was trying to gather a sampling of newspaper articles from that day to put aside and keep as a means to look back in the years to come. He said, all he could find were stories about the war in Iraq and North Korea’s nuclear controversies. Kim and I said, that’s good — that’s what he’s coming into.
I began wondering about other families, the wholesome family values, and sending children off to die for other people’s money. Then thought, such thinking had even become mute and cliche. I started wondering what Bennett might come to see, and believe, and hold true and important. I thought, would he be forced and trained, or would he have the opportunity to look out with his own eyes, his own thoughts and feelings, his own capacity to choose.
Fortunately, his time, for now, with Jon and Kim, remains in womb-like warmth and isolation. Only a few short years we have now to change. Maybe not to lock away all the thieves and murderers, but at least deal with our mass murderers for hire, and power, and perhaps learn to focus just a little more upon the betterment of both ourselves and one another, instead of the cold abstraction monetary gain, and its many justifications.
So here I’ll try to leave behind my own little news clipping for Bennett. Maybe he will see, like many others who look back upon our time, that not everyone was content to follow the narrow-minded, greed-dominated and self-destructive course that will inevitably define our time. Maybe he will see that sometimes, even when we have little hope left for ourselves, that we might find a giant wellspring of hope for others.
Today, we are reaching out beyond our planet Earth more than we ever have. Much like the explorers setting sail into dangerous and unknown seas, we are beginning to chart the waters and map the landmasses of our greatest sea yet – our solar system.
We have more probes and observatories out in space than ever before. We have vehicles digging around on Mars. We have craft sailing to Saturn, and dropping cameras and sensors parachuting onto other planet’s moons. We’re crashing things into comets to watch them blow up. We have probes that have now traveled further than the boundaries of our solar system’s heliopause, careening into the great void of interstellar space. We observe the vastness of the universe from all manner of spectra. And there is plenty more of that on its way…
Stereo launched today – a set of twin space probes that will be helping us begin to understand the weather of our solar system. One of these probes will be flying faster, and ahead of Earth — the other behind. Both probes will be watching our sun, from different angles. They will produce 3-dimensional stereoscopic images of the sun – the first ever.
We are actually starting to consider doing more and more in space, and particularly reaching other planets. Maybe by the time you can read this we already have people living or working on other worlds. But for now, we have only recently come to learn that weather exists in space. The sun, being an immensely powerful force that drives all motion and fuels all life in our solar system, spews forth energies that can just as easily kill us as keep us, and the other life we depend upon, warm and alive.
The Stereo observatories are meant to help us understand exactly what coronal mass ejections are, and what causes them, and how they interact with the solar winds. Right now we think that CMEs are associated with sunspots, but we’re not sure how — and we know now that sunspots are associated with the crazy, twisting magnetic fields of the sun. We also want to know more about solar energetic particles that seem to be caused by CMEs, but travel much, much faster. A CME can take a few days to reach Earth, but solar energetic particles can reach us in less than an hour.
Currently, we don’t have any way to protect our astronauts from this radiation weather that comes from the sun, nor do we have any good way to measure or predict this weather. This ignorance is something that must be overcome before we can send people safely outside the protective boundaries of Earth’s magnetic field. We must also come to understand and predict this weather better to protect the electronics in space responsible for our communications. If we have prior notice, and predictions, we can take protective measures.
These bold exploratory moves, though they may seem small and silly from the future, come upon the heels of some less inspirational “space stuff” from the White House. Eariler this month their newly stated space policy now includes the assertion of US rights to do whatever they want or need to in space to protect US interests and maintain our national security.
Yet construction recently began once again on our planet’s first International Space Station after the aging space shuttle fleet was allowed once again into service. People can even pay huge amounts of money now to spend a few days on this space station. Also commercial flights will be starting within the next couple years to take people briefly up into space for a quick little “taste” of what it’s like.
There are so few of us now who have traveled into space, to see our existence as it more truly is, from the perspective unbound by the more “worldly” concerns that hold us like gravity to “flat” surfaces. Each time we hear astronauts try to describe it, they lack the words. Their most common impression is, though, that our world looks so beautiful and fragile, and they know that everyone they have ever loved lives down on upon that small sphere, and there are so many of us, so different, so delicate, yet here we are together in our incredibly beautiful, so rare, so fortunate home, traveling through the utterly cold darkness of space, together. How truly petty are our differences.
I wonder, by the time you can read this (or, perhaps, force yourself through the drudgery), if you and your generation might have difficulties even imagining people who could not see the world as one world. So many people, living together, in their watery garden home, so many individual truths and beliefs, yet taking responsibility for each other’s welfare, and the welfare of their common home. I can hope that for you, at least.
We are in a dark time, Bennett. People desire and shape their lives around money, a mere abstraction that does not even really exist, yet everyone believes in and is almost always forefront in their minds, and even hearts. This is not so different from how people have always been, except that our technological capabilities have rendered the consequences of the pursuit of money vast and terrible. We destroy ourselves and our planet (as if they are separate) quickly and easily by placing money above our own humanity.
A large part of me fears this trend may continue. Education is swiftly moving toward the technical and losing the humanities. As a friend Mike pointed out recently, we are loosing the mediation of the human spirit within education. My hope is that the human spirit endures and grows regardless, and that you, and others of your generation, might come to see the petty spirits and small-mindedness of the people who shaped the world you were born into — and that you might collectively choose to take the next step beyond our self-imposed limitations, to live to better one another.
Also today we saw the courts of the state of New Jersey rule that people who love each other can be married, even if they are the same gender. You may grow up into a world where love between people is the important thing, not who you love, and who you cannot love.
Maybe people might even come to know that it’s the spiritual essence of a religion that’s important, not the rules people establish to mindlessly or methodically follow, then claim some connection to the divine, like an ownership reward.
You will be seeing such different things than we do now. Will you be working on “spooky” computers that transmit information via quantum entaglement rather than through light or wires? Will it be understood that space really does not exist, and that all particles and substance is formed through interconnected quantum braids that store and communicate information? Or will we be back to the giant beetle that pushes the sun across the sky each day?
I wonder how you will perceive your own sense of freedom in a nation that is hiding away more and more of its operations and monitoring and even imprisoning its own citizenry more than ever. I wonder if instead the next few elections will have placed people in power who open up our government more and make them accountable to each of us, rather than to money interests. I wonder if, by the time you start contributing yourself to the world, that we might all be able to take pride and joy in simply that — that we exist, and are contributing in our own way, with our own strengths.
I am so curious to know what your history books will say about our government allowing energy companies to squeeze out the last bits of profit from primitive oil burning, at the expense of our planet’s environment, the lives of our soldiers, and the cost of the people who need to have energy in their homes and the ability to travel to work (yet still feed themselves and their families). I am wondering what your history books will say about this president and the people involved.
It was very strange holding you on your first day in the world. I could feel you stretching, your spine and legs, your joints, popping as you adjusted to the open air outside your brief home in the womb. You realized you had hands. You saw things before you. You pooped your pants.
That little creature dozing away, touching your nose, so many things yet to see. Dark times, indeed. Yet glimmers of light, of potential, all around. I hope we can do some very good things for you. And I hope you can do very good things for those who come after you.
But most of all Bennett, I hope you drive my sister nuts.