I saw the above passage in my Facebook feed yesterday and promptly copied and saved it because I love it when other people write my feelings succinctly and turn it into an inspirational post so I don’t have to.
Before having children, I heard myriad dark tales of the harrowing experience of raising teenagers. Having eons ago been a teenager myself, I recalled the endless battles with parents, the scramble to balance friends and boyfriends and homework and extracurriculars and part-time work and social activities, and the confusion surrounding figuring out who I was and what I was supposed to do in life. I remember that time as exhausting and exhilarating, a period of self-development precariously balanced with self-loathing.
When my sons, now 18 and 16, were toddlers, I could not wait for them to get older. I longed for a time when I could understand what they wanted and discover who they were. And, through the infinite magic of time that speeds up as we age, I arrived here more quickly than I ever imagined.
While my parents struggled with their teenagers, I’ve found mine to be 10% terror-inducing and 90% delightful. Letting my son drive off at 6 am with his brand-spanking new driver’s license to head to the mountains for a hike, well…that’s terror-inducing. But waking up the next day, pulling up Google Translate on my iPhone to start brushing up on my French for an upcoming trip and finding my sons have been doing the same, well…that’s delightful.
My sons have brought out both the best and the worst in me over the years since they arrived and made us a family. Fortunately, as I have aged, I have relaxed a bit, which has made experiencing my sons’ teenage years more filled with laughter than fraught with frustration. If you get out of your kids what you put into them, I must have given my all.
“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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…
…To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
– Carl Sagan
I have a deep and abiding respect for those, like Carl Sagan, who are able to see beyond themselves and understand the precarious nature of life on this blue orb that affords us our existence. Some of my favorite images were captured by the Hubble telescope, an instrument with value that can’t be calculated in the billions of dollars it has taken to create and maintain it. Through its lens, we measly creatures are barely able to scratch the surface of the vastness of the universe. Sit for a while with a Hubble image of a galaxy cluster and allow its magnitude to envelop you. When life hands me an epic smackdown, I view photos from the telescope to put things in my life back into perspective. All the stress we feel in our tiny lives and all the weight we give ourselves is lost in those images. We are nothing. We are less than nothing with regard to what we have been able to discern of the universe, yet what we do on this minuscule speck of cosmic dust means everything to our survival.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, while disappointing and disastrous on many levels, is not surprising. Small minds yield small thinking. As full-disclosure of the president’s decision penetrated the news world yesterday, I discussed it with our teenage sons. There is nothing more important to me than teaching my sons their place in this world and their responsibility to it as educated, white males of privilege. I encourage my kids to be forward thinkers and solution seekers. There is no room for a future in a world where we live in the past. As I was lamenting the damage done by climate-change deniers and our unwillingness to make personal changes to save this planet, my oldest said this:
“The planet doesn’t care what we do. We will all die off and the earth will go on without us. The earth has suffered far worse than what we are doing to it now and it is still here.”
Dozens of hours spent voluntarily absorbing science-based programming on his iPad has given my son a realistic understanding of life’s precariousness here. We place so much importance on our impact on this planet, and for good reason, but our impact on this planet only matters insomuch as pertains to the existence of life on it. We don’t matter at all to this space particle that transports us around our star. If all humans suddenly ceased to exist, in as little as 25 years, three-fourths of paved roads would be covered by vegetation. In just three hundred years, man-made metal structures like the towers “great men” build and emblazon with their glowing, gold names would crumble and disappear. And after 10,000 years, only stone structures like Mt Rushmore and the Great Pyramids would be left to offer proof that we ever existed. We don’t matter to the earth. It does not give a shit if we cease to be.
We are erasable. For all the movies we’ve made and books we’ve written about alien populations wiping out our existence, we are our greatest threat. We know this, which is why we write stories about escaping the damage we leave behind. If we continue to barrel along, turning a blind eye to our impact on the air, water, and land we rely on for survival, then we will die off. We will have earned that fate with our ignorance and intransigence. Someday, perhaps a future population will refer to us the way we now refer to the dinosaurs, as sad, ancient relics incapable of stopping their own extinction, doomed to disappear. The difference is that the dinosaurs will have lived 159 million year longer than our species and have done so without sentient brains in their reptilian heads. Clever girl, indeed.
At the end of 2010, I had this brilliant idea. At least it seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. I would create my own web site and begin writing again via a blog. How hard could it be, right? I mean, hundreds of dozens of people write blogs every day, and judging from the content, grammar, and spelling on some of those sites, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or an English major, apparently) to publish a blog. So, following hubby’s advice, I opened up iWeb on my MacBook, did a simple page layout, registered a domain name (Moms Into Adventure), and put myself out on the web in an official way. I had forgotten, though, what a headache web publishing can be.
Back in 1998, when I was a graduate student studying professional writing at Illinois State University, I took a class called Hypertext. The course objective was to gain an understanding of how writing for the Internet is different than writing for hard copy publication. Words on the Internet are mutable. With a mouse click, one word can springboard you into an entire new realm of thought or investigation. An Internet writer would be able to share multiple concepts succinctly simply by adding links within their work. One of our graded projects involved fabricating our very own web page that in some way defined our identity. It would be my first web page ever. To do this project, I purchased some 1998-simple, Adobe PageMill web software and learned (kid you not) some actual HTML. My identity project for this class is STILL on the Internet today, rife with dorky animated gifs and appallingly unfriendly web site mapping, which only proves how your current Internet activity, no matter how innocuous it seems, will haunt and embarrass you in the future. Wait and see.
At any rate, it had been a long time since I had designed information for the web. Because our web sites were created for a class and hosted by the university, we weren’t allowed to upload them directly. Instead, we saved our sites to floppy disks so our professor could review and upload our information to the web via FTP. It was all so late 1990s. So, you can imagine how I struggled trying to negotiate new Internet publishing programs after what I learned a million years ago when I was 30. The new web site I created last year came with an enormous learning curve, a lot of cursing, and much consternation and head scratching. Still, once I got the hang of it, I persevered and managed to publish nearly 100 posts last year, which was the most writing I had done in nearly a decade. I was proud of my small piece of the web.
Then, yesterday, I went to revisit something on my old site only to realize that, exactly as promised, Apple had eliminated MobileMe, the space where my blog had been peacefully residing. The entire blog was no longer on the Internet. Even though hubby had mentioned that MobileMe was going away, I don’t think it truly ever registered. Truth is that I only listen to him about half the time, so I must have missed the half where he mentioned I would have to put my information elsewhere or lose it forever. Oops.
Consequently, I have spent the better part of the afternoon creating a new site on which to house my 2011 blog articles. I’ve had to undo the previous forward so that it no longer sends users to the defunct MobileMe page. I’ve learned about Nameservers and spent more time with Go Daddy than Danica Patrick. I had to remember passwords I haven’t touched in 18 months, and you have to know the amount of effort that went into that because I can’t even remember what I had for lunch yesterday. At one point, I manually had to uncross my own eyes. It’s been a mind-numbing, excruciating process, and I’ve only managed to upload 5 of my 100 previous posts so far. Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy. I really need to look into getting my tech support some tech support because I’m about ready to fire her…I mean, me.
The Internet in all its insanity, though, is merely a metaphor for life. The things you wish you could delete will stay with you a lifetime, while the things that mean something to you can be gone in an instant. The only constant is change. If you stop to blink, you will miss something vastly important. Some associations can be easily repaired while others can be lost forever. And, no matter how much you learn, there’s always more you will never know. As hard as it is to keep up with the way of the future, when you decide to quit adapting to the technology of the present you become a fossil. So, to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs I will keep up with this crazy Internet publishing nonsense…at least until the next better thing comes along.