“Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris”
(Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return)
The newly discovered—and more importantly visible—comet Neowise is making a celestial spectacle across the skies. If you miss it, you’ll have to wait 6800 years for its return. This got me to thinking a bit about such things.
When the comet last made an appearance in the skies over our planet, it was the year 4780 BCE. The world then was a bit less crowded. The leading technology of the day was canals and irrigation in the Middle East. In Europe, circular ditches of some unknown ceremonial purpose were the latest of man-made structures.
In that time of little artificial light pollution, the night sky would be filled with stars, meteors, and the occasional comet. Lacking any understanding of astrophysics, it might seem to be the chariot of a god flying across the sky.
Huddled before their fires, terrified of things they could not understand, perhaps they prayed to their gods for atonement or forgiveness for angering them. Humans, from the very beginning, assumed such events were tied to their behavior and required some sacrifice or act to appease the offended celestial being.
Thus we somehow decided burning a lamb, or an enemy, on an altar would be a “burnt offering so pleasing to the lord.” Now, we just pillory them on social media.
In 2020, we have a more fundamental understanding of the elliptical orbits of such objects and the ability to predict their return. Few, if any, are cowering in fear of the nighttime display. We have a better understanding of the science.
But 6800 years from now, as the words from the song The Year 2525 by Zager and Evans asks, “If Man is still alive,” those humans will look on the same comet and wonder what those primitive humans six thousand eight hundred years ago thought.
To those in our far future, we will be the backwards, technologically inferior beings. Those of us who have seen the comet in 2020 will be long forgotten memories. For us, our time will be long over.
Yet I like to imagine a different scenario. A continuity of existence beyond this short time on this planet. Carl Sagan, the late (Late? He ain’t late, he’s not coming) eminent astronomer/philosopher, is famous for saying we are stardust. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young sang about it at Woodstock (and you thought it was just sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.)
The elements that comprise most of our being—carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen—were created in the nuclear furnace of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. I am not turning sixty-four this year, I am going to be a youthful 4,500,000,064.
I imagine a return to this elemental stardust isn’t the end of existence, but just the cycle of continuity within the universe.
And as one of our many attempts at explaining life and death says , “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return.”
I like to imagine on my return to elemental stardust the atoms that once were Joe Broadmeadow will scatter throughout the universe and, if I am lucky, perhaps I can catch a ride on an asteroid and look back down on my former planet 6800 years from now.
As I fly by, I will “smile” in a way only someone who understands these elemental truths can and shout “What a ride!”
Now it’s been ten thousand yearsThe Year 2525 Zager and Evans
Man has cried a billion tears
For what he never knew
Now man’s reign is through
But through the eternal night
The twinkling of starlight
So very far away
Maybe it’s only yesterday
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