It just feels like yesterday playing with the toys in the home and thinking that my home is everything that is out there. Of course, I was wrong when I started going out to play with my little friends and felt that our house is just one among many. Even though it is unique it is not as special as I thought it was.
It was not so long after that when I first experienced a 12-hour long train ride to my grand father's home while sticking my face to the window and started counting as many houses as I can. Not more than 10 minutes into the ride I exhausted all the numbers that I knew and couldn't keep up with the pace of houses zooming past the window. I did feel sometimes as if it is the houses that were moving, not us.
A few more hours into the ride before hitting the bed, I started counting the train stations that are greeting us, and I fell asleep.
Our next long-haul was scheduled not too long after that for my dad's conference in another part of the country. The train and the stations felt the same to me but I do not have enough numbers to count with me yet as I can barely count 2 digits. I woke up the next morning while still on the train by a loud announcement from a station we stopped briefly, and realized that it is also a greeting but not the same language I knew. We have traveled too far from home and people do not speak the same language anymore. The world I'm living in suddenly became bigger than I thought.
As years go by and I keep changing my grade number on the favorite cartoon stickers of my new school notebooks, I have forgotten how fast my scale of the world has increased changing my perspective on what I once called the only thing that is out there. I felt smaller and smaller.
When I started learning about the continents, oceans in my textbooks I couldn't grasp the size of the real-world scale. After all my scale is calibrated based on my actual travel experience. Even now, when I think of a city, I immediately connect it with the length of my train ride from home to get a picture of the scale in my mind. So, the continents and oceans that I have never experienced are simply answers in my exams. And so with the planets, I've read about. They simply do not fit my train-ride-scale.
I've just entered the third decade of my life when I flew to a new country, 15 hours in a non-stop flight, 8500 miles, nine and half hours behind my home's timezone, and countless hours in my imaginary train.
Just as I did in my train rides, I sat next to the window sticking my face to it as the houses and streets slowly disappear and the clouds gradually descend from my point of view. Surprisingly my train-ride-scale neither become smaller nor bigger. Maybe because I couldn't compare it with the number of stations the flight has flown by. Even now I feel that my grand father's house is 12-hours away. But as every hour passes, the digital screen in front of my face reminds me how much we have traveled and which country is below us. It didn't matter because I cannot see it from my window. My imaginary train has stopped moving and so did the scale in my mind stopped increasing.
Just two years later as I fiddle with the buttons on my tv remote in boredom, I came across something which fueled the thirsty and rusted engine of my imaginary train with an infinite supply of curiosity. The train has started again and took off from the world I knew till then.
Cosmos is what I happened to stumble upon just to cure my temporary boredom of a lazy weekend. Unknowingly I fell in love with the grand scale of our universe which made my train-ride-scale negligible, as the hundredth number after the dot. What started as a simple TV show profoundly impacted the way I looked at the life around me. It was never the same again. You may relate this experience to reading a life-changing book.
Only then did I realize the true scale of the universe we live in. Even though I answered all my geography and science questions right about the planets and solar system, I never pictured them as I did now. My train is now a spacecraft that zooms past the planets and stars and can reach the center of the galaxies and the horizons of black holes at an astronomical scale. It can also shrink itself to the size of an atom and explore the inner workings of life at the nanoscale. It can travel at the speed of light and look backward to observe the entire world take a mannequin challenge. Every train station in space is filled with an incredible amount of mind-boggling realities.
For human minds, we always need a visual representation to let anything sink in. Here is a picture of the Earth taken by the Voyager I spacecraft 3.7 billion miles away from Earth. It looks like a bright pixel in the dark cosmic background.
Perhaps there is no better representation of life as a "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam" as Carl Sagan said. There is a sense of togetherness in the seemingly helpless state of our planet. I needed such a scale to put the problems, fears, failures, and difficulties in perspective. I haven't found any of those that couldn't fit in a fraction of this scale. I never looked at the stars and my home the same way again knowing that we are nothing but a 'mote of dust' and our life span in the time scale of the Cosmos is just a 'blink of an eye. I'm deeply humbled by this perspective of life and the reality around us.
These words by Carl Sagan, who requested the Voyager I team to take the iconic pale blue dot image continue to resonate in my mind as I feel exalted by this revelation.
Look again at 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.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
And the train never stopped since then.