By Larry Feinstein

A starry night illuminates Kalalau Stream in this long-exposure picture taken by @molokaitodd.

“Look up at the stars, not down at your feet” — Stephen Hawking

How often do any of us think about the mind boggling, infinitely boundless space we’re a part of? Admittedly, we are leasing only a small piece of galactic real estate here on this planet we call Earth. It is still a concept that is so large, it pushes every imaginable button within us. I am going to guess, for the most part, no one really cares about the topic of where we are in relation to the infinite cosmos, because of that energetic, short circuit it triggers.

This has been on my mind ever since I saw the initial, magical photographs from the James Webb telescope last month, as it catapults its way through space. My absolute, first thought was these images looked like some fabulous, powerful Avatar animation. Then, I just looked at them, trying to figure out where we are in all this. I know for me, it is intellectually defying to try and get my arms around some limitless, beyond quantification universe.

I was curious about the scenes it was memorizing and sending back to us. My first thought was trying to understand the distances, which can explode your brain. There are two reasons for my wanting to grapple with this distance concept. One is just trying and explain it to myself, and the other is trying to give it some context on a much larger scale.

These images depict unimaginable universes, thousands of light years from here. OK, get ready for measuring these distances. One light year is six trillion miles. What does that mean? I have no idea, but I can make it even more onerous. Not to be outdone, one million million equals a trillion. I will stop right here, because I suspect you get my point, plus I will get a nosebleed if we stay with this subject too long. I don’t think my brain is wired in such a way that enables it to understand numbers of that magnitude. It pushes my meager intellect into the realm of faith or even worse, the great void of I Dunno.

Truthfully, it wasn’t the astronomical science part or the unfathomable distances that riveted my mind. At that moment of first viewing, what was being shared, at least to me, was that we are merely a speck of dust. I’m not gonna lie to you, we’re on our own out here.

The time for trading in the shield of arrogance for the heart of humility is long overdue. I don’t know that we were ever inclined to see ourselves as part of some plumbless mosaic of possibility, so large it is beyond any measurement. It was that single, mind-blowing image, that stopped me in my tracks earlier in the week.

Believing in the truth of these cosmic paintings, depicting galaxies so far beyond ours, requires a kind of reorientation. What is out there is an infinitesimally, tiny manifestation of what is eons beyond our comprehension.

We are destined to keep chasing our tails, each answer creating a new question. Maybe, if more of us spent some time looking up, imagining the vastness of this forever, porous ceiling we live under, humanity wouldn’t be headed for its very own Thelma and Louise, reality remake.

There are cave paintings from thousands of years ago, showing our hairy relatives marveling at the heavens. On the other end of this primal idea that we are part of some magnificent vastness is the millennia-long epidemic of blindness to anything outside our perception of the world we inhabit.

I just flashed on the classic film, The Manchurian Candidate. It dealt with brainwashing, using a specific card image to elicit a sinister response in the chosen assassin. He had his marching orders and there was no stopping him. I imagined showing everyone in the world the image that lassoed my attention and got me going on this mental bender in the first place.

Suddenly and quite hypnotically, the entire world would morph into a population of possibility. The wellbeing of all would become a mandate. Wars would be outlawed. The idea of a gross inequity between the haves and the have nots would be laughed away and replaced by a far more equitable circumstance. Being a minute part of something so much larger than ourselves would cause us to recalibrate our actions.

This foray into fiction is juxtaposed against the truth of who we are. This morning, I read about the funeral of a four-year-old girl, killed by a Russian missile attack in Kiev. I looked at the photograph of this little angel, forever asleep in her open coffin. I closed my eyes and instantly thought of that stunning image sent from so far away, an image of the infinite.

We have always been preoccupied with our next footstep, never looking at where we are going. I paused my own walk to look at that fantasy photo and wondered why we have always been slaves to the moment, blind to the miracle of our existence.

This Earth of ours and all its inhabitants are part of something so large and so singularly extraordinary.

All we have to do is look up.



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