“We, all of us, bound by this common origin, composed of elements forged in the nuclear cauldrons of long-dead stars, look up at the stars and, in humility, connect with each other, fellow travelers on this magnificent blue oasis”
I learned a remarkable lesson in life this past Monday, 13th June. I share this because it speaks to much of what I’ve written about since the inception of this blog last year. The experience I’m going to describe has changed me forever.
In Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, he speaks of the pursuit of Astronomy as a humbling and character building experience; in reflecting on my experience of this past week, those words have a much deeper and more profound meaning now than they ever did. My choice of Astronomy as a lifelong pursuit has been a great source of inspiration for me and has taught me things you simply can’t learn in a textbook, that we are truly small and are here as a fortunate accident and a whim of nature, that there really isn’t a greater power looking after us, so we must look after each other.
I realized this in a flash of insight later, remembering how I returned to a conscious state to find the doctor holding my head in his hand, examining me, looking into my eyes, open with nothing and no one there, an empty shell devoid of any sentience, eyes wide open. I use the term “conscious state” as that is the closest our feeble language can come to describe what happened generally and what happened specifically, to that entity that is “me”. We all have been unconscious; we’re unconscious, well most of us anyway, at least 6, possibly 8 hours out of 24 each day. We go to bed, close our eyes, fall asleep and wake up the next morning, well the fortunate ones do.
I know what its like to fall asleep and to wake up; I’ve been doing it for over 60 years. What happened to me on Monday was nothing like that, nothing. I was here one instant and gone the next, like a switch that was flipped off. Nothing, its as though time stopped and I returned to my body, unaware of anything. While giving blood for a routine medical exam, I began to feel faint and vaguely nauseous and told the attendant. They helped me up to start the 3 meter walk to the recliner but I never made it; I collapsed and was gone. Five minutes later, I “returned” to find the doctor holding my head in his hand, my body on the floor, eyes never closing. I have no recollection of falling, just “returning”, not “waking up” as I wasn’t asleep; I was gone as though time had stopped. When I finally regained my senses and reason, I was changed; I was filled with a deep sense of peace and humility and the certain knowledge that there is nothing beyond this life. Was this a “near death” experience or was I dead for 5 minutes? I don’t know but my doctor told me I experienced a “seizure”.
Why do I share this deeply personal story? Because I wish to share the lesson I learned. Be kind to each other; treat everyone you meet the way you would want to be treated; be slow to anger and quick to forgive. When you’re gone, what will your legacy be? No one will remember how much money you had or how many cars you owned or the size of your house or their number, nor will they care; they will remember one thing, and one thing only, how you treated them and each person you met. Much can be said of a person’s character and how they behave in the moments they believe no one is watching them. May each encounter be as though it is the last with that person; approach each meeting this way, with the realization that you may never see that person again.
All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike-and yet it is the most precious thing we have
Imagination is more important than knowledge
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.