It’s been an interesting week here in Unicorn City. A few days ago I was in the main square, watching as about 10 angry men shouted their displeasure with Basescu to anyone who would listen. I didn’t speak to them but I listened as they argued and even screamed at any passers by who dared to contradict them. I don’t know if they were Dogaru’s troops or not but the venom in their voices was palpable even at a distance.
On another day I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with a local Hungarian family, alike in every way with any ordinary Romanian one, eking out their life from the same cramped bloc as everyone else, working, suffering, living and trying to survive just like all of their neighbors.
And while there was no hate or anger in the words of this family, there was that same quiet desperation I have encountered so much here in this country, a kind of bitter resignation that the problems of this society are too large, too pervasive to ever be overcome and that your only option is to adopt some kind of grim determination to survive despite it all.
It’s a kind of black cloud hanging over this country’s head, this feeling that nearly everyone else is to blame, both politicians and the wealthy or influential as well as one’s own neighbors, with just a few bright sparks to be found amongst friends and family.
And all of this got me to thinking, remembering all the way back to 1977, when the world seemed so much different. In those days it felt like Communism was solid, immobile, a permanent fixture. Ceausescu and the Soviet Union were stars in the sky, fixed and unchanging and would be here forever. The planet seemed destined to be divided into two hostile and opposing camps and the chance to ever bring down those barriers was the stuff that only a fool would dream of.
But a small team of idealistic scientists used their knowledge and expertise to launch a tiny spacecraft in that year, sending it on a long voyage to the edge of our solar system, a journey that it is still undertaking here in the year 2012.
This past week many people have rightfully been memorializing the accomplishments of Neil Armstrong but for me, out of all of the hundreds of launches, probes, shuttles, explorations and other endeavors in space, nothing will ever compare to that tiny, strange, idealistic little ship that launched in 1977 with the very appropriate name Voyager, bearing in its metal heart a golden record, with a message from all of humanity to any life forms that might ever encounter it.
And it was on a cold winter’s day early in 1990, when here in Romania the wind of change had started to blow, when the Soviet Union was on its last legs and Ceausescu and his wife were laid to rest in an impromptu grave, when it seemed like finally there was a tantalizing sense of hope in the air, that the tiny Voyager spacecraft took a very special and unique photograph.
From a distance of 6 billion kilometers from Earth, as it was reaching the edge of the solar system, a handful of scientists at NASA told Voyager to turn and point back towards this planet and take a photograph. And it was this photo, now known universally as the pale blue dot, that the Earth was seen as a single, fuzzy pixel lost amongst a sea of interstellar bodies. It was the first photograph that showed the Earth as it truly is, revealing that even in our own solar system, this tiny group of planets that orbit a single star, that our home is but a tiny lump of rock and metal, entirely indistinguishable in the vastness of space.
The astronomer and teacher Carl Sagan was inspired by that photograph to write a book, later narrated by himself, that you can hear below.
And I wonder, I truly do wonder, what it will take for the people of Romania to see everything, even if for just a moment, as Carl Sagan did, from the larger perspective, and realize that almost all of the problems and squabbling and worrying and bitterness is entirely unnecessary and far too small and petty. Life is far too short to be locked in this narrow, small thinking.
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different.
Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.
On it everyone you love,
everyone you know,
everyone you ever heard of,
every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of our joy and suffering,
thousands of confident religions,
ideologies and economic doctrines,
every hunter and forager,
every hero and coward,
every creator and destroyer of civilization,
every king and peasant,
every young couple in love,
every mother and father, hopeful child,
inventor and explorer,
every teacher of morals,
every corrupt politician,
every “supreme leader,”
every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there
on a mote of dust
suspended in a sunbeam.