In 1990, Voyager 1 left our solar system. As it departed, scientist Carl Sagan asked NASA to turn the camera around and take one last picture of the earth from its position 3.7 billion miles away. This famous photo was entitled, The Pale Blue Dot. In reflecting on this picture, Sagan stated,
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known. (1)
Sometimes when we get lost in this cosmic view, the people around us become insignificant, but Sagan felt this view should do the opposite and make us kinder and compassionate towards one another. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson waxes poetic in pursuit of that view.
When I pause and reflect on our expanding universe…. sometimes I forget that uncounted people walk this earth without food or shelter, and that children are disproportionately represented among them. When I pore over the data that establish the mysterious presence of dark matter and dark energy throughout the universe, sometimes I forget that every day…. people kill and get killed in the name of someone else’s conception of God, and that some people who do not kill in the name of God, kill in the name of needs or wants of political dogma. When I track the orbits of asteroids, comets, and planets… sometimes I forget that too many people act in wanton disregard for the delicate interplay of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and land, with consequences that our children and our children’s children will witness and pay for with their health and well-being. And sometimes I forget that powerful people rarely do all they can to help those who cannot help themselves. (2)
Tyson goes on to explain that if we had a better understanding of our place in this giant cosmos, we would learn to celebrate our differences rather than create problems or kill one another.
Most of us have experienced the humbling effect of the cosmos while looking up at the night sky. When I watched Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recreation of Carl Sagan’s old show, The Cosmos, I found myself in awe of God’s creation. As spectacular graphics imagined the vast reaches of space right on my tv screen, I began to feel so very small.
The same thing happened when my small group took a trip to the local planetarium. The astronomer that night used his technology to zoom out from the earth as far as he could go, revealing literally hundreds of billions of galaxies around us.
We are so small. God has shown us that we are by no means insignificant—but we are small. So often I want to make myself the center of attention and put myself above everyone else. But in the end I’m just a spec in creation, only able to do so much before I die.
The bigger my revelation of the cosmos becomes, the smaller I become. In those moments I have to realize, like Carl Sagan, that I should be kinder to the people around me and cherish this world. For in the end, we’re all just tiny specs, running around claiming that we’re big deals, when in reality we are all equally small. So be kind to one another. Apologize to those you’ve wronged. Offer kindness more than critique. Assault your neighbors with random acts of kindness. Grow in kindness in the areas where you lack it: with politics and with waiters and waitresses.
1. Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York, Random House, Inc., 1994. p. 9.
2. Tyson, Neil deGrasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. New York, NY, W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. Ebook, Ch 12, ¶4-9. The entire chapter this quote is from is worth reading.
An excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.