I wouldn't have the courage to leap out of a capsule 23
miles up, that's for sure. Hell, I could never even pluck up courage to leap
off the high diving board. But one thing I do envy our culture's latest
daredevil hero for and that's the chance to see the Earth from that incredible
height, to get a greater sense of its curvature, its wholeness, its planet-ness. And to feel in his body,
for four whole minutes and at a greater intensity than ever before, that deep
strong pull homewards that we know as gravity.
One of the first astronauts to see our Earth from space
spoke fervently about his feeling of identification with it. Just as we may see
a photo of our own house, our own street, our own town and say "Ah,
there's home," he suddenly realized that he was seeing, through the
porthole of his spacecraft, the only home that humans have ever known. And
exhilarating though that moment was—he said later that it changed his whole
life—one can only imagine the profound sense of relief he and his companions
felt when their feet eventually touched solid ground again.
Most of us never get further up than 40,000 feet and even
then we are more likely to be watching movies, reading in-flight magazines or
waiting for the drinks trolley to reach us than we are to be marvelling at our
(somewhat) expanded view of the landscape. And millions of our fellow humans
have never been inside a plane. However, the concept of flight, the concept of
travel, even on a train or in a car, plays tricks with our minds. In fact, just
our very ability to move from place to place on foot rather than being rooted
in one spot for life, like a tree, gives us a false idea of who and what we
We talk about being on
the Earth, as though anyone except Neil Armstrong has ever actually been on anything else. Religious people
sometimes talk about being 'stewards' of the Earth, as though our planet hadn't
managed perfectly well for millions of years before we turned up, a few cosmic
seconds ago, to be its self-appointed 'stewards.' We talk about 'Mother Earth'
and ourselves as her children, but most children grow up and leave home and
that is one thing we cannot do. Nor would we want to.
We have no difficulty in seeing rocks and mountains, sand
and sea, rivers and stones as being an intrinsic part of the fabric of our
planet. Even plants, we can imagine as part of that fabric, since apart from
tumbleweeds they mostly stay where they are. But moving creatures, the ones
with feet and hooves and wings and manufactured wheels, those seem different to
our literal, childlike minds and it takes a leap of intellect—a leap that many
people seem unwilling or unable to take—to understand, to really get it, that we, too, are just as much a
part of the Earth as a mountain, a pebble or a mushroom. The molecules and
atoms we are made of have been here since the Big Bang and the energy forces
that formed those molecules and atoms were here even before that, part of a
vast mysterious universe that is beyond the grasp of our finite minds.
Yes, it is an intellectual leap, but it is a leap worth making because it is a leap that can change your life. Some people can go even further than that and are able, even if only for a few seconds at a time, actually to experience that oneness and have a total knowing and bodily feeling of it that is way beyond all thought or concept. I long for the day when we can all do that.
I want to say
to everyone: you are part of this planet in the same way that your nose is part
of your face. Yes, theoretically you could chop your nose off and hurl it out
into space, beyond the sky, beyond gravity's pull…