Sunday, October 16, 2011
Beyond the Horizon
Or do you?
It all sounds like a lot, but maybe it sounds more like a great amount of words than a great amount of distance. After all, the sun is just there, we've been to the moon, and surely everything isn't really so far and we aren't really so small and cosmically forgettable.
But we are. And more so than you or I can begin to imagine.
And yet it is easy to forget this, even if we've studied it. It is easy to drive down a long road and be impressed by the sheer distance we have to go to get to from Point A to Point B; it is easy to look at other largenesses, like skyscrapers and mountains, and to forget just how smaller-than-small even they are, pitted against the rest of the universe. It is easier still to be caught up in our conversations, our day-to-day interactions, with others, and to think, at least subconsciously, that it is those that take up all the space in the world. Love and fear are the great space-fillers; and there's nothing wrong with that. I love love. And in so much of life, simple interaction between two persons can seem to require an infinite bridge, as though, even if we are face to face, we are still universes apart; Schopenhauer, and later Freud, referred to something like this as the hedgehog's dilemma, whereby we cannot get too close to one another without hurting each other (i.e., the hedghogs' spines will cause some problems), so we must find the right distance at which we can coexist in comfort. So it goes. I am willing to bear pain for someone I love, and I have no problem, after all, with my cosmic insignificance. But I accept it.
The problem, of course, is that many do not even know how tiny we are to begin with, much less to forget or subconsciously replace it with something else. And if you do not know anything about the universe, it is easy to think your world--your island, city, town, village, neighborhood, home, room, the grand ampitheater inside your skull--is truly all there is. And we all do this, at some point. We forget. We forget the rest of the world exists when we get dive, descend into something specific. And when we reemerge, when we untangle ourselves from our webs like the Lady of Shallot in her sad castle, the world briefly becomes new again: yes, there is an entire island beneath my feet, and there are continents there, and they are large, and there are entire wars, rallies, movements, life-changing experiments, beauties, horrors, births, and deaths occurring in them all at once. Often, we do not really understand this, though; at best, it's usually just a vague truth, perhaps reinforced by images on the news of distant conflicts in distant lands that may well seem unimaginable to us until we are similarly caught up.
At such times, it is easy to think the horizon is all there is to see.
Religion, on the surface, makes so much more sense in small areas. After all, when your village is all there is to know, it is not hard to feel as though you must be special. This is partly why religion seems to have taken root so easily in the Caribbean, all history aside; the clear borders of our islands become, at least subconsciously, our mental borders, and the events in our island seem somehow to be those of the world. But this is by no means restricted to islands, nor is it a necessary result of insularity. It can--and does--happen anywhere, as long as we believe ourselves to be beings who are large enough to matter on some cosmic scale--a scale that most do not really begin to envision when they think like that. How, after all, can we imagine that we are the center of all that is, and all that is around us is just there for kicks and has been there for as long as 13.7 billion years, the supposed age of the universe?