We’re all star stuff you know…

I get looks of confusion and disbelief when I say I want to be an astrophysicist. It doesn’t upset or offend me at all, but it reminds me of how I used to feel about the word “astrophysics.” The term seems so far removed from our daily vernacular that it’s pretty jarring to hear unexpectedly. The follow-up question I get the most is, “What made you decide that?”  I immediately go into the speech about how 8 months ago or so, I had a mini-epiphany and found my passion and being in Korea gave me the time to think about it blah blah blah. Unfortunately I can’t truly convey why I love the Universe and astronomy on the spot.  It’s almost like the people I talk to have to take it on faith that it’s something worth the time, and that I am truly passionate about it even though there is very little to grasp in the conversation. I feel that to do myself and my passion some justice I have to attempt to really explain the allure of the Universe, and why I care about something so vast and intangible.

The memories of laying under the stars on a clear night are something that we almost all share. The quiet of the night, and the vastness of the sky are a comforting combination. No matter your age, where you come from, or your understanding of the stars themselves, there is something so humbling and haunting about basking in the majesty of the cosmos. However, for every ten incredible serene moments there is a moment in which we feel so small, so inconsequential and so helpless. There is nothing wrong with this feeling except for the fact that as a human being, it can be a frightening experience. Without an understanding of the universe, this feeling persists. The more time that passes and the more experiences you have without attempting to grasp the cosmos, the more of a mystery it becomes. It becomes an insurmountable question, that in most people’s lives doesn’t require an answer. This is exactly why the confused faces greet my answer of “…astrophysics.” It is a realm of study and human endeavour that for most of us fails to spark our interest past the point of knowing where the big dipper, or Orion’s belt are. Sometimes though, that haunting feeling compels us to dig deeper, and work towards that insurmountable answer. That compulsion is what came to find me 8 months ago.

The seeds of my love for the Universe were planted years ago when I got a telescope for Christmas one year. I always thought space was cool (who didn’t watch Star Trek as a kid?) but the realities of what was out there didn’t hit close to home. It wasn’t until I looked through that telescope at the Moon. For the first time I saw the ridges, craters and cracks in the surface. It was almost as if I could touch it if I reached out my hand far enough. The most exhilarating thing about that moment was when I could see the Moon moving through the lens of my scope. I could watch it creep, in real-time, across the lens and that blew me away.  For the first time, something outside of Earth was truly what they said it was. It was a giant rock orbiting at about 300,000km away. I was humbled to say the least.

My fascination from then on unfortunately played a back-seat role. I didn’t actively pursue education in physics, or astronomy because there were other things I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I had the time to really sit back and consider what I wanted to do with my life that the answer (for now) became clear. It wasn’t a transient vision of the stars in the shape of Carl Sagan’s face, or some voice on the wind saying, “doooo it. Study the starsssss. Build it and they will come.” The answer was simply, “Why not?”  When I asked myself, “Why don’t you pursue a career in astronomy?”, all I could say was “why not?”

The simple act of giving into an idea and considering it, as opposed to doing what is comfortable, or what is expected is beyond empowering. Once I let go of the idea, “I have wanted to be a teacher for 6 years, so that’s what I’ll do.” and just hopped into bed with the broader idea of possibilities, my life changed. It’s like I just discovered sugar for the first time. Learning who Carl Sagan was, was a welcome treat for my brain:

Listening to Feynman for the first time was incredible as well:

And if you’ve never heard this man speak, you are missing out:

(It’s kind of embarrassing how much I feel in common with this guy)

From the point I accepted a new (and completely unexpected) direction in life, everything changed. Who I was/am didn’t change, but who I wanted to become suddenly and drastically did. As abrupt as the change was, the rewards were just as sweet. I opened myself up to a world that deep-down I really wanted to know, and I started to understand and feel things I never did before. Understanding that every bit of us, and this world was once inside a massive nuclear reactor in the vast expanse of space made me feel so connected to the Universe that studying it felt like the least I could do. I would smile every time I read an article talking about Quasars or the latest information coming out of the discussion surrounding the Big Bang and String theories.  Each time I had a discussion about space and the Universe I felt as if I was speaking about something I understood, and felt comfortable with.  It was as if the stars were aligning things were starting to make sense.

I realized I loved the Universe because it is an entity that is so minimally understood, but monumentally important. It is something so vast, yet so close. It is something so intangible yet we reside within it. The Universe is a massive and beautiful mystery that we are all a part of, and that is what draws me to it. The human race will not come close to full understanding of the cosmos in my lifetime, but being a part of the solution and having the opportunity to push a piece into the massive puzzle that is the Universe is a big part of what I want to live for.

It may seem naive or simplistic, but I believe my happiness and comfort in the time since I changed my life direction has come from that simple answer, “Why not?”  It took a little while to stick, but once I embraced possibility instead of avoiding it the world opened up. I feel better than I ever have in my life, and without trying to sound like a self-help book, if you ask “why not?” every once in a while, you will too.

GRG

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~ by humanmoves on May 7, 2010.

4 Responses to “We’re all star stuff you know…”

  1. I like it.
    I think it’s a great thing to be passionate about, so much beauty and truth and inspiration, something greater and outside of us which may never be fully understood.
    I’m sending good vibrations your way, glad to read this article on this particular night.

    • thanks so much for the feedback! It means a lot that you took the time to hit me up with a comment. keep the feedback coming on future posts! lol.

  2. Great post. Always good to see someone which so much passion.I do hope you get to be an astrophysicist.

    Perhaps you could combine your earlier desire to be a teacher with your current passion. Astrophysics,as you mentioned is daunting and we need more people to introduce its wonders to the rest of us.

    People need to look up at the night sky more often!

    Good Luck.

    • Thanks! I appreciate the feedback getting encouragement from a complete stranger means more than you know! I was actually considering attempting to combine the two fields. I would love to have the expertise that would allow me to speak to the masses like Tyson, Sagan and Feynman. I don’t think I’ll be as close to fantastic as they are/were, but I’d love to be a part of it all. Thanks again!

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