Saturday, August 12, 2017

You're not the center of the universe

It's A Small World (Rachel Poletick / Instagram)
There was only so much I knew as a little kid. My name is Rachel. I love wearing dresses. I live in California. California is in the United States.

Though I can't pinpoint an exact moment, eventually I discovered blouses, overalls, skirts and jeans. I also discovered that there were places beyond California and the United States. There were Japan and Norway and Madagascar and Uruguay. And all of these places were also home to kids not unlike myself who were discovering the vastness of the planet Earth.

I would soon learn that even our planet isn't singular in its existence. It is one among several in a solar system in a galaxy that is one among many galaxies.

I could have felt small when I learned that. I could have felt inconsequential. Released of the burden of my existence, even.

Well, that didn't happen.

Because I'm human, I went on to live a life lacking in that recurrent cosmic perspective, instead feeling every triumph deeply and every failure even more.

According to the geocentric system agreed upon by Plato and Aristotle and standardized by Ptolemy, the Earth was considered the center of the universe with all other visible celestial bodies circling around it. It seems absurd now, that the sun, the moon, the stars and our neighboring planets revolve around us. What makes us so special? A relatively tiny planet among many in the vastness of space?

I contend that, although we have the perspective to see our planet now as relatively insignificant, as a people we still struggle to apply that same logic to our lives.

Take today, for instance. I was in the waiting room in Emergency at a local hospital. Though I won't go into details, the person I was accompanying was pacing as one is wont to do when sitting or standing still or doing much of anything while physically uncomfortable. Without provocation, a woman also awaiting being seen aggressively called out my companion, saying the pacing was an attempt to be seen and attended to by the nurses first, though she had arrived at the ER before us.

She proceeded to berate my companion, so I tried to step in. All awhile, my attempts to extricate everyone from the situation created even more ire from the offensive party.

With all this going on, a thought kept repeating in my head:

"She doesn't know. She doesn't know. She doesn't know."

Our day has been difficult. Our week has been difficult. We have been near to breaking. I have broken. But I have never tried to break someone else.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who would pick a fight in the Emergency Room. This is a place where people are in peril, in sadness or in mourning. All I could think is how easy it is to fall into that geocentric way of thinking. That you-centric way, for lack of a better phrase. You are the center of this little ball in space and as that center, everyone else is orbiting you. They are all as extraneous and secondary as the sun, moon, stars and planets to your Earth.

But that's just it. That makes no sense. While there had been rumblings about it long before the 16th century, in 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus became the de facto father of heliocentricism through his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). The book illustrated an astronomical model proposing a solar system with the sun at the center and the Earth and its fellow planets orbiting around it.

In a great big universe with you at the center, the people around you, the communities, the states, the countries, the planets are irrelevant. But that universe doesn't exist.

I am as important as you are and you are as important as they are. My bad day does not negate your bad day. I have no right to make your day worse because I perceive you unwittingly disrupting my orbit.

I do, however, have the right to make your day better. In big ways or in little, seemingly insignificant ways.

Childhood was a simpler time. What I could not comprehend was not a burden to me. But children also cry when they're asked to share. They get cranky when they're told they can't have dessert before dinner. They grumpily tell you to go to your room when you ask them to stop hitting others. I grew out of childhood and became better behaved in my little universe and better informed about the broader one.

I can't begin to know your story, but in the moments when it counts I'd like to think my impact will be a net positive in your life. With a little insight, maybe we can all see that we're all orbiting the same sun together.

No comments:

Post a Comment