Something in the Dark

I watched the sun set, as I had done all the nights before — on the back deck of my Uncle’s house in Sedona, Arizona. Which in itself is something of great enjoyment. Watching the fading light dance upon the red pastel cliffs surrounding the valley is to witness the entire vista be in a state of flux. Yet despite the beauty of the sunset, it is not what I looked forward to throughout the day. For it is but the prelude to something utterly magnificent. Something which fundamentally changed me.

Something in the dark.

After the sun goes behind the horizon, I lit a cigar, cracked a beer, and reclined back in my seat, feet up on one of the other chairs on the deck. My father does the same. With little light pollution it gets quite dark in Sedona; a sort-of all-encompassing thick black. The orange glow of the cigars lit the deck as if they were torches.

We were lucky that night, there wasn’t a cloud in sight. A few moments after all light of day had gone, a star pierces the void. Then another. Star after star made their debut.

Something I’d of course seen before, but it was that dry night that for the first time I bore witness to an immense band of luminous white, violet, and faint peach light stretching from one end of the valley to the other — the Milky Way.

Though I have seen photos online, the ash on my cigar grew long as I fell into a state of a sort-of existential ecstasy.

It would take a book to describe the feeling.

In that moment I came to understand and appreciate the gravity of the words of such figures as Carl Sagan, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Richard Feynman.

For my own eyes to experience the immensity of our own galaxy — to be able to make out individual star clusters and luminous gases at the bulging center — shattered remaining notions I had about humanity’s proposed privilege as the ultimate purpose of all creation. An overwhelming realization of my immeasurable microscopic-ness swallowed me as I stared at-, and tried to comprehend-, that piece of the hundreds of billions of solar systems which orbit our galactic center.

I could not stop my eyes from watering.

Amazement and disbelief, excitement and fear, elation and terrible hopelessness, settled into humility.

I am nothing. My lifespan is a laughably brief instant in the face of that view; with light from some stars only just now reaching my eyes after traveling the cosmos for hundreds of millions of years, or more. In some sense I suppose one could say it was a tragic experience really. Yet, slowly, after what felt like hours of ignoring the growing strain of my neck as I peered up, the hopelessness turned into profound joy.

It became clear that the most amazing thing about looking up at that night sky and understanding my tininess, my good cause for humility — was the ability to do so.

I am conscious.

The clang of dishes wrests me from the sky, Dad’s going to bed.

As I calmed, sat up, and re-lit my cigar, I felt for the first time that I understood — if even just a little bit more — these words by Carl Sagan:

“We are made of starstuff. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

Thanks for reading!

I realize that some of the thoughts in the above are rather opinionated insofar as the metaphysical nature of our reality, and they’re just that — opinions.