It's such an amazingly big world out there. Here it is, 10:00 at night, on December 25, 1999--Christmas night. I'm out walking in the cold moonlight, stopping to examine the vast expanse of the Carson Valley to my left. It's just so quiet. To my right stand the stark mountains that form the basin of Lake Tahoe, looming silently over me in the cold night as I admire their bright patches of snow on the steep rocky cliffs and the play of moonlight over the ashen granite of a once-great volcano.
Past the mountains--so incredibly far past them that the imagination cannot conceive it--is the dense weave of stars that quilts the country sky. They twinkle silently as I stare up at them, my breath in the air making them hazy. I can pick out the constellations-- our representations of what the stars mean to us-- but I can also see the individual stars--some dim, some bright.. some farther away than others... but all cold, remote, and unreachable.
To us a star is just a pinprick of light in the sky. It affects our lives not at all. It's just impossible for a man to understand the distance to that star; the human mind can't grasp that kind of perspective.
There's so much nothing between here and there-- so much cold and hostile space. It's hard to imagine that the seemingly cold and tiny twinkle is a raging nuclear inferno much like our own sun. That it heats and powers planets much like our own solar system. And that there are civilizations on those planets, much like our own.
Here we are on our little island of life... our little star in the cosmos, our oasis of survival. There they are--so far away, so unreachable across the vast nothingness between us. Nothing stops us from talking with them--nothing prevents us from visiting them. Nothing but all that nothing.
All statistical probability aside, there is the intuitive understanding that life exists out there, and lots of it. Somewhere out there is another man like me on another planet like mine, looking up at his sky, looking at a pinpoint of light lost in a sky full of other stars. I call that star home. He's trying to imagine what I must be like. He's wishing he could just say hello and be counted among the occupants of the cosmos.
And though I will never meet that man--though I will live out my life and probably never learn of absolute scientific confirmation of his existence--I know he's there, and he knows I'm here. That kind of implicit understanding is reassurence that we're not alone in this huge, amazing universe.
I will never see the inside of a nebula. I will never live on a planet with rings. I will never collect rocks on moons of moons. But my counterpart on that faraway planet will never see the beauty of the Sierra Nevadas in the silvery moonlight.
We each get our own little slice of the cosmos.
Copyright © 1999-2001 by Kevin Kelm. All rights reserved.