Easy to Make Fun

Sure, it’s easy to make fun of Carl Sagan, who I mentioned here yesterday. I bet even a six-year-old in Madagascar could do a take-off of the way he said “Billions!” in his effort to make us look up now and then from our antlike preoccupations.

But look at this video below, which somebody made, setting and compressing his utterances into a kind of song. There’s even brief footage of Stephen Hawking in it. How many have viewed it? You’ll see when you pass the ad and click through: over 8 million of us, one of whom has written in the comments section that watching this video is what turned him/her away from a degree in Computer Science and toward a degree in Astrophysics .

In case this doesn’t appear for you, Click here to see the original video and then here to see the “Symphony” this person created. “Who knew Carl could beat-box?” might be your first thought; but your’e made of stone if you don’t feel a catch in your throat when he speaks of not a sunrise but a galaxyrise.

The Blue Dot

meteorite hit feb 15
Forty-eight hours after that meteor hit in Russia and the asteroid that was the biggest object of its kind to be seen coming this close to Earth, I’m reading me some Carl Sagan. His show Cosmos still holds the record for the most watched science-related ever to be broadcast.

You look back at him with that 70s hair and sure it’s easy to make fun. Mention his name at a party and at least three people will make a somber face and go “Billions!”

Ah, but he died too young.

Here’s something he wrote about our little blue pearl of a planet, and under that a short clip of him speaking, in words as reverent as any prayer. The two bring tears to my eyes this day.

Look again at that dot. 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. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Learn Something

A weird thing, fear: it’s what we knew as children, alone in our beds, terrified that the monster beneath would jump out and eat us up. It’s what we courted as older kids, on roller coasters and in speeding cars, or at scary or violent movies.  Even as adults, fear made us feel more fully ‘alive’ in a way we didn’t often feel in our safe American lives.

We love this manufactured fear, the way it keeps real fear at bay, but tell ya what: It does nothing for sadness, in whose dark kingdom we seem to have been dwelling for this whole last decade.

There’s a great passage in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, a coming-of-age story of the legendary King Arthur, once an ordinary boy called Wart. That Wart is the rightful heir to the throne of England nobody knows, except the wise old wizard Merlin, who appears one day, with his pointy hat and his moon-and-stars cloak, to walk him toward adulthood.

Later in the story, he comes upon his young charge in a state of sadness and tells him this:

The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then: to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting… 

Me I’d like to learn  Italian, like my friend Bobbie is doing. Or Physics, since I somehow missed Physics in high school.  Or maybe embroidery which I haven’t done since I tried stitching my 5th grade teacher’s initials onto a pretty handkerchief for her and ended up sewing them tightly to the lap of my skirt. 

But I love the idea that learning focuses you outward – not inward toward your own small self, but outward, toward the intricate beauty of this world, and all those other worlds beyond it.

How many were there did Carl Sagan used to say?  “Billions?” We made fun of him but he was a cool guy who died too young and Cosmos was a really wonderful show. Remember it?