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June 26, 2019
“…the universe, by definition, is a single gorgeous celebratory event.” –Thomas Berry
Yuk! A huge glob of gum on the bottom of my shoe affixed me to the floor of the gift shop at the National Air and Space Museum. But suddenly ‘yuck’ became Yes!
The shiny metal manmade interior of the museum had been depressing rather than amazing me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Now as my foot felt the pull of earth’s gravity, I knew with my hometown poet Robert Frost that ‘earth’s the right place for love; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.’
I’d brought my daughters to see the moon rock, a tourist attraction ranking right up with the Grand Canyon at the time. We were pretty pleased with our American selves for beating the Soviet Union to the moon those fifty years ago next July. But the sight of the gray, barren, lifeless stone left me cold.
I’d missed seeing the actual mission but I was listening to it over transistor radio in a rural area of Nicaragua, a Latin American nation we’d had been meddling in for decades.
Standing in an airless, windowless dirt-floored dwelling while a woman gave birth and we tried to convince her to let us to put blindness preventing drops in her newborn’s eyes made me wonder why we were spending so many resources to explore the moon when there was so much that needed doing on earth.
It was only much later that I learned the lunar landing had more to do with domination than discovery: why else would my partner’s employer, a defense contractor, have been awarded the challenge to design and build the rockets that would put a spacecraft up there? Planting the U.S. flag first was the goal!
Ah, but alas, there was an unintended consequence! Pictures of our earth beamed back from the moon fired up the public’s imagination and brought forth the first Earth Day, plus environmental regulations to protect our planet from ourselves.
And down through the decades, NASA has tracked and documented the changes being caused by human impact on earth’s natural systems. Astronauts have reported on the receding glaciers, expanding deserts, changing coastlines, raging wildfires…and tried to warn us. And now things are so critical that the current government threatens to cut NASA’s funding if it doesn’t focus more on space than on home base.
When I ask my partner why the moon isn’t more like the earth if it’s just a blasted-off part of us, he patiently explains that the moon’s small size means that it doesn’t have enough gravity to hold onto a protective atmosphere. And without that, life can’t take hold: there’s too much radiation from our sun.
Yet this is the precious atmosphere we’re messing with! “It’s not rocket science!,” my exasperated partner wants to yell at the deniers who deliberately delay and then block all efforts to address the oncoming climate catastrophe: “Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere. This thickens the blanket that protects the earth from the sun’s radiation. Then the trapped heat warms the earth. So stop the burning! Period!!”
We both have rooftop solar on our homes, and drive an electric car on solar power. There really are clean energy alternatives to coal, gas, and oil, as increasing numbers of people are realizing. We know if we don’t make the transition soon, it will be too late to matter. Yet our government has ‘doubled down’ on fossil fuel exploration, exploitation, and exportation: its stated mission is world energy domination. As our so-called ‘leaders’ claim they don’t believe in climate change, they fail to realize that the forces of nature, like global warming and gravity, aren’t subject to their ill-advised opinions.
In my memory, I run out of the Air and Space Museum to scrape the gum off my shoe and kneel down in wonder at the lone dandelion poking up through a crack in the sidewalk. And I wonder with Father Thomas Berry “what it would be like if we had existed first on the moon and then come to planet earth. The experience would, of course, be so overwhelming that we could not absorb the impact of the earth’s beauty!”
Indeed! What would we make of the great diversity of life flying, swimming, running, mating, birthing, breathing, being…? And had we just happened to land on the rim of a grand chasm that lays the open earth like a book, would we be able to see beyond the familiar-feeling rocky landscape and read the epochs of life’s evolution embedded in those layers of stone?
Would we, as ‘lunans,’ stand still in awe as gravity held our feet to earth’s surface, be amazed at what its force has brought forth: the sound of coyotes carried in on the wind, the sight of condors soaring overhead, the feel a brachiopod under our fingers, the taste of a pine nut, the scent of incoming rain?
What would our response have been? Would we have embraced the mindset of early earth humans who let awe hold human greed in check, or would we hone in on the modern arrogance that plunders earth’s resources, destroys existing ecosystems, and in the process turning earth’s wonder into a wasteland reflective of the moon?
Perhaps our lunan reaction would be one of such gratitude that the grace of gravity would become gracias, one of the many human words for thank you.
In fact, what if our gratitude for gravity could create a whole new species, one that is both human and lunan!
In a way, that’s exactly what Thomas Berry urged: “The historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human…at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life-forms, in a time developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience” (i.e. creative imagination, vision).
Together as a Greater Self, we could stand at the dawn of a new era, and co-create a culture in which the new human/lunan will be placed within the dynamics of the planet rather than the planet placed within the dynamics of the human.
Earth is the right place for love, and for the Life that emerged over eons until such a thing as love became possible. Can we love this life on this planet deep enough to protect it from those who would trash it and treat it like another throwaway commodity to be left behind for someplace else in space? Even if we could all just up and leave earth (which we can’t…that option will be only for a chosen few) count me out: the overwhelming beauty of this planet has a truth claim upon me that is even stronger than the grace of gravity.
And I’m stocking up on chewing gum ‘in case of emergency.’
Gail Collins-Ranadive, MA, MFA, MDiv, is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister, a former nurse, a licensed private pilot, and a workshop facilitator. Author of seven non-fiction books, including two for children and two Homebound titles, she writes the environmental column for The Wayfarer. An Easterner by birth and a Westerner in spirit, she and her partner winter at her home in Las Vegas and summer at his in Denver. Gail is the mother of two and the grandmother of five. Visit her at www.gailcollinsranadive.com
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