Every king and every peasant

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 “superstar,”
every “supreme leader,”
every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there
on a mote of dust
suspended in a sunbeam.


13 thoughts on “Every king and every peasant

  1. Within the first week of being in RO, and directly experiencing and observing all that was inherently there, I was clear it had resource and potential to excede almost any western country. This isnt naive talk. This suprised me to no end, not ever what I would have expected. Everything (almost) worked. It was just a tiny, yet in it’s own way huge element needed. It was the simple atttitude and act of considering tomorrow. To consider and take the chance that any action done today- with integrity, could bring about a higher result tomorrow.


    1. I’ve always admired people who, unlike me, can be optimistic and think positive but do you realize that you’re talking about a country who lost its sovereignty? Considering the current state of things, Romania will become just what its masters would allow it to become, nothing more. Unfortunately, history was never on our side, under any aspect and I can’t do else but admit that I’m preparing for the worst.


      1. I am sure Romania will always be a great place to live for whoever will be willing to take his life and happiness in his own hands. The problem with Romanians is that communism taught them wrong things, such as expecting for the state to take care of them. Romania is a safe and free place, which is what counts the most, and free borders with western Europe also provide great opportunities for honest and intelligent people. Romania for sure isn’t perfect, but is perfection really possible?

        Do you think that anyone owes us anything? I don’t think so… The only reason why someone would do us any good is if there’s something in it for them too. This is how life is. America, or France or Germany have their own problems too, and their purpose of existence isn’t just to help Romania, that’s for sure. But our right and duty is to stand up for our rights, and not to expect being pampered. It’s a harsh life, but on the other hand it’s easier than it’s ever been throughout history.


      2. I too used to think all you’ve written above until the day it happened to open my eyes and actually see what was and still is occurring right under my nose. As for the things that communism might have taught the Romanians…I really don’t know what you mean by “expecting for the state to care of them”. If you imply that Romanians should look after themselves and search new opportunities of careers or professional development rather than expecting to be provided with jobs or any form of social support, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have no right to expect for the state to fill my platter with food or pay me a monthly allowance as long as I can work to support myself. But I do expect for the state to take care of me and my interests when it comes about drawing or negotiating financial or economic strategies, for instance. Am I wrong to expect this?

        And no, I don’t think that anyone owes us anything but I actually think that we are owned by some people. I also think that tanks and missiles became unnecessary as long as banks and rating agencies could be used instead.


      3. Well yeah, but the morale of this story is that, in the big picture, it doesn’t really matter. Look how beautiful this is :

        “every teacher of morals,
        every corrupt politician,
        every “superstar,”
        every “supreme leader,”
        every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there
        on a mote of dust
        suspended in a sunbeam.”

        The meaning is that the saint and the sinner, the moral guy and the corrupt politician are all the same, in fact. The differences are too small. They are both a miraculous life form in an immense universe void of life.

        You know what? There 400 BILLION planets in our galaxy alone. And there are 100 BILLION galaxies out there. And none of it has life. The probability of life appearing is very small. The probability of it developing into intelligent life is even smaller. But humans somehow appeared here on this most beautiful planet and soon, very soon they will start making their way on other planets, and out of this solar system. Did you see images from the robot Curiosity landing on Mars a few days ago? It was launched in october and traveled 540 million kilometers to get to Mars. Would be nice if our televisions would show more of these kind of news and less of Basescu&Ponta news, by the way.

        Take your life as an incredible and unhoped for gift. The very fact that you exist is a rare opportunity, and yep, tanks would jeopardize that quite a bit more than banks, wouldn’t it?

        Is really worrying about Basescu, Ponta, banks and rating agencies the best activity you can think of to do during your very short, rare, improbable and precious life? Are they really THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE UNIVERSE?

        I think this is what Sam was telling Romanians with this post :)


      4. Well, yes, those lyrics are beautiful but it doesn’t mean that I have to agree with them. “smile” Frankly, I’d rather see them as the song of the mermaids. In respect to how life should be regarded, I’d rather like a rough quote from one of Camil Petrescu’s dramas: “The most important thing that a righteous man could learn is that his life isn’t worth living at any cost”.


  2. Beautiful Sam, we all need to stop a minute and reflect. Richness, glory, land, all that is just vanity food. All we need is love as Beatles said once, the inner state of peace


  3. Sam , that is a damn good… No, a Great piece of writing, maybe one of your best! You some how encapsulated the essence of the “numbness of apathy and despair” among the Romanian people.

    If they could only know how much they are respected and admired by the other “outsiders” who know them. I for one, as an American, am truly proud to know all the Romanians I met there on my recent trip… they have so much potential …. they just need to step up and take their destiny in their hands…. it is not easy, freedom never is! If not for themselves, then for their children’s future, a new and better proud Romania!


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