Let’s Look at the Universe

One of the draws of places like desolate stretches of unpopulated desert landscapes is the absence of artificial light. When night falls on miles and miles of empty countryside, the sky takes on a mesmerizing appeal; a wondrous black canvas filled with millions and millions of stars. Viewing our own galaxy—as if through a luminous vapor—inspires awe and clarifies Earth’s insignificance in the cosmos. That planetary insignificance magnifies our own irrelevance; the thought of humans struggling to achieve power in a space so enormous becomes unspeakably sad. At the same time, the idea of our own inconsequence puts us on equal footing with all the creatures over which we seem intent on exercising dominion. In that context, we can see ourselves truly as microscopic threads in the fabric of existence. We can understand we are never more than equally important—or unimportant—pieces of a puzzle  so immense that we cannot hope to understand it. That always-incomplete understanding is a gift; it forces us to return, if only for a moment, to those instances in our childhood when the wonder of the universe around us inspired awe. Those childhood moments allowed us to appreciate the vastness of space. Dark skies stippled with light as old as time give us the same opportunities to acknowledge both the enormity of the universe and the microscopically small parts we play in it. It is for those reasons that I think every one of us should spend at least a full night outdoors, on a crystal clear moonless night, far from artificial lights, every few years…at least. Each of us should do that—if for no other reason than to brush off our dusty humility and let it wash over us. Frankly, I don’t know why that should matter; nothing we do can be as important as the vastness of the sky is large. But an occasional immersion in just how immaterial we are seems, to me, to have the potential for restraining us from doing any more harm to the world than we have done for millennia.


Okay, I’ll switch gears and devote some thought to matters that—in the huge scheme of life and space and time—don’t matter. But they do matter on a nano-microscopic level.

Yesterday, we got good news that my IC does not have any more issues with kidney stones. A short (15-minutes, more or less) visit with the urologist left us feeling very happy with life; no need for drugs, procedures, or whatever. Good news is good to hear.

This morning, we will drive to Little Rock for a few errands. First, we stop for an oil change and tire rotation for the Subaru. Next, we will stop by a bank (the one handling the mortgage on the house we’re buying) to leave off a signed copy of the certification of receipt of appraisal. I would have rather the appraisal come in at a much higher number, but at least it came in high enough that it won’t be any problem. After that, we’ll have lunch at a Mellow Mushroom, a spot we’ve tagged as a favorite. Thence to Costco, where we hope to buy a big prime rib roast for Thanksgiving dinner, along with a few other staples for the pantry. And then, back home.

Last night, we finished watching Goliath. While we liked the actors, neither of us were particularly impressed with the writing. In fact, quite a lot of the story line was irrelevant and obstructionist. A character, Patty Solis-Papagian, was pregnant, for example; an utterly pointless and unnecessary aspect of the story. Ditto the relationship between other characters. And the dream sequences infested with bizarre “old west” themes  was evidence of unpracticed writers who simply wanted to fill space and time. There were more problems, but it’s not necessary to review them. I enjoyed enough of the series to be moderately glad I watched it; I just wish I’d spent only half as much time watching it as I did.


Once again, I had a hard time sleeping last night. In spite of my efforts to facilitate breathing (I inhaled albuterol, squirted nasal spray, and swallowed an antihistamine), my pulmonary system was inadequate for the task. Doctors have been unable to do much for me. They suggest or prescribe drugs of one kind or another, but the drugs do little to nothing to resolve my difficulties. The problems have been with me for a long time, but they have been much, much more noticeable since my lung cancer surgery three years ago. I assume the removal of an entire lobe from one of my lungs must play a part in the difficulties. But, even in light of my difficulties breathing (and the related coughing, etc.), I am fortunate in that I can breathe. My IC and I spoke yesterday about the good fortune I have experienced during several engagements with bad luck. I could have died during any one of several run-ins with health-related emergencies, but I did not. Instead, I was able to limp through to another stage of my life. Wounded, but not fatally. Not yet, anyway. I should be grateful, and I am, but I’d really like to have such an extraordinarily successful health experience that I would feel the need to dance in celebration. Today, dancing would leave me out of breath, struggling to maintain adequate strength to stand. Bah! When we move to a new neighborhood, one mostly flat and ideal for walking, I will exercise more and will recover my strength and my energy. That I will do.


When I was much younger—maybe 30 years old or so—I felt certain I would die long before I reached my sixtieth birthday. I have no idea why I felt that way; I just did. But I’ve recently celebrated my sixty-eighth birthday and I remain very much alive. And I plan to stay that way for as long as possible (as long as I can ambulatory and alert). It amazes me that I am as old as I am (though, admittedly, I know many people much older than I). I’m still the same old kid; the same child wrapped up in an aging body, but still with the same childish brain. The same brain, though, that frustrates me beyond belief when I cannot remember simple words that should be second nature to me. I get angry with myself for struggling to recall words that should flow from my lips as easily as breath…ah, but there’s a matter for concern, huh? I don’t breath as easily as I once did and I no longer think as freely and as clearly as I once did. That’s maddening. It’s more than enough to frustrate the  hell out of me. So I bitch and moan about the natural progression of human decay. Most of us go through it; though some of us may be more fortunate than others, dying suddenly and without warning. But an unplanned death is equally as chaotic and problematic for those left behind as is a slow deterioration that leaves a body limp and useless. What an absolutely cheerless bunch of thoughts this morning! I must stop it! Instead, I’ll return to the idea of buying a standing rib roast and some good wine; and the ingredients for a broccoli and rice casserole or two. That’s the ticket! Food! Food is the elixir of life (especially when coupled with a little wine or/and licores. Hmm. I could turn my attention to becoming fluent in Spanish, which should remove any thoughts of premature death from my brain. Yes, that did it. Time to think more about food. Perhaps I’ll write, tomorrow, about some traditional family recipes. And some not-so-traditional recipes that might prompt me to explore tastes beyond my routine.

Almost 6:30. Time to finish the first cup of coffee and explore the universe without using my fingers.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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