My thoughts grow in the garden. Every time I garden, it is as if I have been transplanted to a different psychic realm. Here my thoughts take a cosmic turn. Big Questions seem to flourish among the tomatoes, zucchini and corn. The static of the day’s practical concerns is replaced by tangible forms of Life, Freedom, Eternity, Faith.
Standing in the garden the other day, pondering the effects of the insistent spring rains on the vegetables and flowers, I drifted from the damp earth to the vastnesses of space and time.
I had read about the Hubbell telescope and the new cosmic realms that it was uncovering. I found myself pondering how, as science progresses, time and space grow ever larger, while our world and tenure of existence are ever shrinking.
In a radio interview, a paleohistorian was expressing how relatively brief our time on earth has been. Putting it in terms I might understand, he compared the age of the planet to a football field. By his reckoning, the entire history of mankind would occupy the place of a single blade of grass at the very end of the final yard.
Since hearing that remarkable statistic, I have imagined the entire history of mankind holding on to a single blade of freshly mowed grass. I was skeptical of the assertion, as my gut feeling told me we were at least around the 8-yard line.
I did the math. Deep breath. Okay. The first creatures identified as men appeared 50,000 years ago. The earth is 4.5 billion years old. 50,000 is one nine-hundred-thousandth of 4.5 billion. So you could look at it like we haven’t been here very long. Or you might look on the bright side: in 50,00 years, we are that close to making a touchdown—that is, if we have possession. We are .004 inches from the goal line! With luck we’ll get there by 52009. Interestingly, I feel comforted by this thought, rocking in the bosom of Abraham, so to speak.
If we compare human existence with the age of the universe, the universe has us beat hollow. Our 50,000 years is soundly trounced by the universe’s 14.2 billion years of existence. So if we go back on the football field, chronologically speaking this time, we squeak in for the last eighth of a second of play. Such traffic! And on a Sunday.
To think that just a millionth of a second ago, in the 1500s, we thought the heavens revolved around the earth. It does seem our calculations were a bit off, doesn’t it?
My friends, the earth is ridiculously tiny. I know, as you’re driving on the freeway, walking or riding a bike, it seems like the earth is pretty big. Say you decide to drive around the Earth. Let’s reckon you go at commuter traffic speed—25 m.p.h. or so (the tie-ups around Istanbul are legendary). As the earth’s circumference is 24,859.82 miles—it will take you about 994 hours, or 41-and-a-half days of 24-hour driving, and that doesn’t take into account getting gas, food and bathroom breaks.
Conservatively, you’re looking at a 2-month drive, and you don’t get a chance to see the sites. If you ask me, the drive you’re planning is ill-advised. My point is, though, that the earth’s circumference—let’s round it off at 25,000 miles—is TINY. The earth is a blue dot in the galaxy. The human race is a tiny race of tiny creatures on a tiny planet that’s been around for only a tiny time.
Indeed, Mother Earth is extraordinarily diminutive. Neptune is 3.8 times larger, Uranus four times larger, Saturn is 9.4 times larger and Jupiter 11 times larger than Earth, while the radius of the Sun is 109 times larger than Earth’s.
Before the sun gets a big head, it should remember it is just a medium-sized star among the 100 thousand million of stars in the Milky Way alone. And the Milky Way is just one of millions of galaxies.
The superstar of all stars, VY Canis Majoris, a class M red supergiant, is 10,000 times more luminous than our Sun, with a diameter 2,100 times larger. It would take light 8 hours to travel around it; light can travel around the Sun in 4.5 seconds. Now get this, it would take 7 quadrillion (7,000,000,000,000,000) earths to fill VY Canis Majoris. Makes you wonder about the size of its solar system.
My tiny brothers and sisters of this miniscule orb, let us embrace our tinyness: tiny is beautiful. If small is the new big, then tiny is the new huge. Our palpable insignificance in time and space reminds me of the line from the 40s movie classic “Sunset Boulevard.” Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson), a silent screen star whose luster has dimmed, declares, “I’m still big, it’s the pictures that got small.”
We’re still big. Rather than bemoan our insignificance, we should embrace it. It is as if all of us who live here on earth—man, plant, insect, animal and microbe—have won the celestial lottery. Theologically, even if we’re wrong, we’re right. The odds against us being alive are close to infinite: making us all infinitely fortunate.
As I yank weeds, I remember we’ve landed in a planet like no other yet observed, a planet that is a garden. This planetary garden is what sustains us. With that thought, I look in on the cherry tomatoes. I pluck one—red, ripe, fragrant—and pop it in my mouth. It magically answers all of life’s questions—at least for today.