The Chariot of the Gods

“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.

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,

And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Crosby, stills, nash, & young, “Woodstock” 1969

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 years
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

The Year 2525 Zager and Evans


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Fate, Chance, and Choices

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

(Some thoughts on life and nature. Brought to you by the sacrifice of others we remember this Memorial Day)

A tiny baby blackbird, apparently fallen from its nest, drew my attention the other day. One of the adult birds, male or female I could not tell but I assumed it was the mother, attended to the little guy on the ground. I couldn’t tell if it was a scolding or an encouragement to stay brave, so I continued to watch.

Nature and Life

The adult flew off, leaving the little guy hopping and fluttering on the ground, unable to fly and pleading for its mother to return.

Often the drama of nature is right before our eyes. It is not where you look but when. I just happened to look at the moment this drama unfolded.

My first instinct was to do something. Return it to the nest, care for it until it could fly. My wife and daughter often tease me about my need to help. They say I am a boy scout. In many ways, they are correct. Something inside me compels me to do something, even when I am uncertain of what to do.

Like the case of a bird fallen from a nest and the reality of nature.

I struggled with the choice but decided I should let fate and nature take its course. The stark reality of life, and its ultimate logic, is if you can’t fend for yourself, you perish. Nature is not cruel, it is not heartless; it is agnostic to survival.

Some live, some die.

But I was still troubled by not doing anything to help a fellow living creature.

Perhaps it is not that nature is indifferent about life, about who or what lives or dies. Perhaps nature knows life is a continuity of existence that goes on forever. Whether we have self-determination—free will—to live our lives or whether it is all pre-destination, in the end, doesn’t really matter. Life preceded us, and life will continue after us.

As it would for this little guy.

In this case, the boy scout won out, and I captured the little guy, returning him to his nest. For the rest of the day, the two adults took turns calling to the little one who answered back but clung firmly to a branch just outside the nest.

If he chose not to fly, or could not, he would perish, and other living creatures would feed off his body. If he flew off, he might live a long life. I will probably never know if my interceding extended his life for just a moment or if he is now enjoying the freedom of flight.

If someday hence, I come out to find evidence of a bird’s excretions on my windshield, I’ll take it as a sign that while his life may or may not have continued, life does.

I hope the little guy gets to leave his mark on many windshields and flies long and far under a warm summer sky.


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