I saw this photo on the web tonight (click for a larger version), and it arrested my thoughts immediately. I have had a really shitty day, but when I looked at this image of the Sombrero Galaxy, 28 million light years away (1 light year is roughly 10 trillion kilometres and we are talking 28 million here), all my trivialities vanished for one tiny little moment. Then of course ego reasserted its authority and got its grubby little hold back on me . But for that split second… Wow.
For what it’s worth, I am an atheist. I don’t believe at all in any sort of God, particularly the organised religious type, with long robes and a wicked sense of vengeance. Yahweh, Allah, God, they all seem to me to be unoriginal caricatures of the worst kind. (at least the Hindus have a great sense of creativity with Ganesh and the pantheon of deity in India) But I do appreciate living in a society that allows me to have my opinion. I don’t seek to unduly influence others, only to hold my own views in peace and talk of them if I wish. I do however believe in the incredible awesomeness of the cosmos. Carl Sagan is one of my heroes.
I’m also a photographer, a writer, a husband, a father, a computer geek and a cricket fanatic and a political tragic. So what. Is that important? Are my views at all important? I think not. Certainly no more important than yours. Of course I like to have a platform to air them, but considering the anonymity of said platform, I think a little self importance is forgivable. I am safe in the knowledge that very few people will ever even read this.
But for those that do (and for myself), what is important? Is politics? Is cricket? Is it important whether people take photos with a Nikon or a Canon camera? Is my annoyance over the mess my daughter left on the bathroom floor important? When I look at this photo, the list of what’s important suddenly gets very, very small.
In one sense, nothing is important at all. A sense of nihilism overcomes me momentarily. I see the universe teeming with life in both space and time, and all of a sudden our puny human endeavor mean nothing at all. That fits with my atheism as well. But it’s not a black dark feeling at all. Instead it becomes a celebration of life. It magnifies the importance of our small and puny lives if only because that’s all we have. It reminds me that I get a heartbeat to live my puny little life and that I’d be a fool to waste it. Which, of course, is precisely what I’m doing. Why? Well, for a start, I’ve been wasting my life for so long now it seems like human nature. Maybe it’s not, maybe it’s just me. But in any case, photos like this stop me up, make me realise what I’m doing; that I’m pissing it all away, that my kids are growing up and I’m not taking enough notice, that my wife is growing apart from me and I’m letting her slide. It makes me realise I’m letting the nihilism take over my life instead of letting the vast emptiness and meaninglessness of the cosmos inspire me to live in the now and enjoy and appreciate the beauty and joy of what I have.
When all is said and done, will I be remembered for what I said or what I did? I fear the fact that I am a man of words suggests that I am not a man of action. Time will tell. I fear that I will realise all too late that I blew it. Ahh, but then again. That split second of recognition when I saw this photo – this is the realisation that I am blowing it. I still have a chance. I have a lovely, caring wife. I have two beautiful children. I have my health. I have an awful lot to be grateful for. Yet I am a conceited, selfish, negative, cynical waste of a man much of the time. Maybe 80%. The other 20% I am a caring, loving, open, sympathetic human amazed by humanity and the depths of our love and capable of the most amazing and creative things. I just need to turn 20 into 80.
Words don’t mean much. Navel gazing is pretentious and self indulgent. Yet this is my blog and I will navel gaze about what the bloody hell I wish to. And today it’s the incredible Sombrero Galaxy and how through the amazing power of images, I have been made aware of something deeply important; critical even.
What’s important is love and beauty, caring and empathy, striving and trying, not giving up, being open to life, and the relationships I have with my fellow sentient beings while I am alive here on Planet Earth. Being in the now and turning that 20 around to 80. In the end my life is deeply insignificant, but to me… well, to me it’s ridiculously important and I need to start living it instead of just surviving it.
OK, sermon over. Go away and get on with your insignificant little lives.
*(any religious comments will be summarily dealt with;) )