Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot

If you didn’t know who coined that phrase and the meaning behind it, his name is Carl Sagan. This photograph was taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990. From 3.7 billion miles away, NASA turned the spacecraft around to take a photo of the solar systems inner planets and captured the Earth. It’s that tiny little speck in the bands of sunlight, the brown band on the right and about halfway down the image. That’s us. Sagan pointed out that on that dot, “every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

Launched in 1977 it took 13 years to get to that point where our planet, our home appeared as the faintest spec of light that it is. At that distance, it is past the orbit of Neptune. Even that pales at the vastness of our galaxy, and our galaxy is just one of the billions of other galaxies in the known universe.

Our universe is estimated to be 14.8 billion years old. The speed of light in a vacuum is 186,000 miles per second. That means in 1 year, a photon can travel about 6 trillion miles, and that is what we call a light-year. At that speed, it took light from the furthest parts of the universe 14.8 billion years to get here, to our eyes.

These are big numbers to comprehend and the measurement of time over these distances is equally challenging to understand.

Earthrise

Let’s reign it in a bit. The Moon is only 239,000 miles from Earth and took just a couple of days to get there. When the astronauts took that famous blue marble photo of an Earth-rise, it brought home our true insignificance and showed our inflated sense of ego as a species. In the 1960s, just as before then and even today, we are divided, and we use imaginary lines on pieces of paper to separate ourselves. I remember once in high school one of the girls in my class was observing a political map in our history class and asked the teacher what was to her an honest question. She wondered aloud if the borders between countries and states were real, that if you drove to one of those spots, was there a giant line painted on the ground? Of course, most of the teenagers in the class knew better and laughed at her; then the teacher told everyone to be quiet as he in his best composure told her no, there are no real lines painted on the ground.

In our minds and on our maps, we draw lines separating ourselves based on ideologies, preconceptions, selfish desires and a host of other ephemeral things that lead to discrimination, hatred, strife, war, and killings. We’ve been doing this for as long as we’ve walked this earth and yet as a species we’ve come so far in our collective intelligence and wisdom to be able to walk on another celestial body and get a view of our home, our only home and see ourselves for what we are. We’ve come so far, but we hold ourselves back because of our delusions of self and ego.

It took the brutality of World War II and the Cold War to prompt us to develop the rockets that took us to the moon. Why did it take the slaughter of millions of people through those times to propel ourselves to new heights? Why do we use our talents, our intelligence, and our might to devise new, innovative and efficient ways of killing ourselves? I think it’s because of innate desires to be selfish, of self-importance, fear, and hatred of those that are different. It’s because of entitlement and getting what we believe others owe us. We’ll stop at nothing to get that which we desire to fulfill our own lusts at the expense of the person next to us.

When we look at that pale blue dot again, we don’t see any borders or lines of demarcation. We don’t see those that are different from us. We don’t see the things which we desire, and we don’t see the have’s and the have not’s. We don’t even see the oceans or the continents. All we see is a tiny hunk of rock in the blackness of space with the light of a star reflecting off it as an instrument of our making takes our self-portrait.

We become so obsessed with ourselves, our own lives and our desires that we rarely stop to ponder our place in this universe. Do we ever grasp how fragile and insignificant we and our planet genuinely are? Sixty-five million years ago an asteroid hit the Earth in the Yucatan Peninsula and wiped out over 90% of life on our planet. It can happen again. I hope it doesn’t.

There is a song by the band Tool called “Right in Two” that I think is relevant for all time. Some of the lyrics go like this.

Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground.
Silly monkeys.
Give them thumbs, they make a club to beat their brother down.
How they’ve survived so misguided is a mystery.
Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability
To lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here.

Can we for just a moment now and then stop being consumed by ourselves, by our electronic devices, by our gossips, by selfish desires and consider the person next to us, the person across the street or the person in another country?

Can we stop and think about our planet, our home and for once perhaps, stop killing ourselves over silly things, like differences of religion or plots of land on a piece of paper? If we could all take a broader view of life and realize that we’re all on this rock together and we need to make the best of it because it’s the only rock we have. I wish we could stop using our talent and intelligence for killing, for selfishness, revenge, passive-aggressive tendencies, and wanton desires and instead put it towards helping one another. Put it towards improving ourselves, our environment, our education and toward being more positive.

“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.”
-Carl Sagan

The Lost Art of Cursive Handwriting

The Lost Art of Cursive Handwriting

We could even title this post “The Lost Art of Cursive Handwriting On Me.

Without any facts or data to guide me, I wonder if cursive handwriting is becoming a lost art. All I have to go by is my personal experience and asking friends who have children if schools still teach it. It is my understanding that schools do teach it.

However, for this post, I will draw from my own experience and refrain from painting the subject with broad strokes of bias and unsupported hyperbole.

When I was in grade school, we are taught how to print and how to write in cursive. Neither style of handwriting did I excel at, but one was always able to decipher what I was writing; it was legible enough.

But once I moved along grade after grade until I graduated none of my teachers, not a single one of them, required the use of cursive handwriting when doing assignments to turn in. So I opted for the path of least resistance, the more comfortable option for me was to print my work, and that’s what I did.

By the time high school came along for me, the personal computer was beginning to become ubiquitous in schools and this respect; mine was no different. Strangely enough, we were never taught to type on a typewriter, and I only had one day of instruction on how to type at all, and it was on a Tandy computer. Typewriters were still a useful item in the 1990s and only then as the PC took over did they begin to fade away. But as the PC took over the schools my handwriting waned even more once we could type up our work and turn it in on a computer printed sheet of paper.

Once I was on active duty in the US Marines writing anything at all was nearly non-existent. The most I can ever recall writing was just some notes now and then in a small notebook. Even then it was infrequent. Anything I needed could be done on the computer.

So here I am some 30 years after grade school, getting interested in the art of handwriting with fountain pens. To me, the art of cursive writing is a lost one. But it doesn’t have to be lost on me forever. I have been working on learning it again today and spent most of this morning writing in an old notebook to get the hang of it still.

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I need lots of practice, but it’s coming back, and only a few letters, like “r” and “z,” are giving me the most trouble. With practice though I know, I’ll get it and that I’ll get better.

Writing cursive with a fountain pen is quite enjoyable for me so far. I’m not worrying about how terrible it looks right now, but concentrating on the experience of it and getting better at it.

How about you? Do you still engage in the art of cursive handwriting? Leave me some comments below.

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