Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I would like to share with you, a certain moment from my life. 

The way I would describe this moment isn’t very simple, though.  It was momentous, yet not.  It was an awakening to me, but it did not illuminate, as I was already aware.  It gave me the ability to see things as they were, but I learned nothing.  For a man that prides himself on being able to describe the things in life that many cannot, I find myself struggling to define it beyond two words: Absolute Perspective.

It was July of 1999.  The summer itself was quite a special one in my life.  Besides being the last one of the “19’s”, I was also preparing to become a high schooler, starting back up what would be a very short-lived amateur baseball career, and the addition of a new family member to our home.  Our new dog and MY furry little brother… Rocky.  However, all of this happened after I got back from my trip.

That July, I was fortunate enough the be a part of a “student ambassador program” where a group of 20-30 kids in their low to mid-teens would travel to another country (in my case, the east coast of Australia), and learn about their culture, while the locals would learn a bit about ours… in theory.  The reality of it was, we were a tour group of rowdy, hormone-crazed & decently funded teenagers, spending every night in a different utopian beach-front resort, with a laughable TWO chaperones to keep us in line… for three weeks solid. 

Needless to say, the only real learning that took place was acquiring the ability to spot a good place to make out, and where to put your hands once the lip locking had commenced.  I myself also learned that making out in a hammock is more trouble that it’s worth.  The Post-Tonsil Hockey Dismount was always very tricky to execute… someone either got a bit of face-to-elbow contact, or fell out of the hammock and had some face-to-sand contact.  Neither of which the opposite sex found attractive, once the bruising began to set in.

Amidst all of the kissing, snorkeling and virgin daiquiris, there was an overnight stay at a cattle ranch located about two hours inland, at the edge of the Australian Outback. Our first moments there were quite the change of pace.  Instead of beaches and blue oceans, we had deserts and orange rock formations.  Instead of a bartender making virgin cocktails, we had ranchers branding and castrating cattle.  Instead of going back to a plush room with silk drapes, we were told to “rough it” and sleep on the ground in sleeping bags that smelled like a homeless Frodo had been squatting in them for days. After a day full of physical activities, we were all so tired, we fell asleep before the sun had a chance to set.  Unfortunately, my REM cycles were cut short at around midnight, by the call of nature. In need of some non-smelly air, and more sleep, I decided to get up and find some place to satisfy my bladder’s very bothersome nagging.

I stood up and began walking around what was a surprisingly well lit field.  Figuring there was a full moon out, I looked up… and froze with amazement.  The amount of stars I saw in the sky was incredible.  It was like looking at a photo taken by the Hubble Telescope, only it was bright enough to illuminate everything and it filled the whole sky.  Looking down only to find a good secluded spot to relieve myself, I was transfixed by the cosmos that hung above me, displayed in the kind of detail I never knew was possible without Photoshop or CGI.  Despite how tired I was, I stood there in the middle of a field… a young kid, seeing the true universe with his own eyes for the very first time.  It was a real-life Van Gogh “Starry Night” and I got to see it by myself, in the dead quiet of the Australian Outback.  At that moment, the realization that I wasn't by myself nearly made me shit my pants.

“It’s because of the light pollution,” the rancher said from behind me, “since there’s no city lights to drown the stars out, you end up seeing every single one.”

It turns out that in every tour group, there are always a few people that get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and end up freezing under the awesome sight that’s above them.  So one of the ranchers thought it would be good P.R. if he made a point to learn all about astronomy, and then stay up late when a group rolled in, to answer some of the questions that might be asked of him.  Me? I had no questions.  I was speechless. 

The rancher took it as an opportunity to point out the best part of the sky.  He tapped me on the shoulder and pointed behind me and to the left, at a thick cluster of stars that grew out of the horizon and stretched halfway across the sky.  It was a brilliant sight.

Oh yeah.  It looked like that.

“See that, kid?  That’s the Milky Way.”
“Like, our galaxy?  THE Milky Way?”
“Yep.  See kid, we’re near the edge of it, and the stars close to us are far apart.  So it looks like we’re outside of it.”
“Holy shit.”
“Damn right.  See that bright center there?  From there, light takes about 40,000 years to get to us.”

That was his final statement of the night, meant to make me silently ponder while he could slip away and go to bed.  It worked.

Standing in the desolate wasteland of a strange country with home on the other side of the planet doesn't sound like such a vast distance when you're looking up at a cluster of 200-400 billion stars.  It made me feel that I wasn’t so far from home after all.  At that moment, it felt like a brisk walk would carry me to my doorstep where I could sleep in my own bed, rather than a sleeping bag made out of what seemed to be a wet yak, sporting a spastic colon.  I felt pretty insignificant, but still strangely at peace about it.

My feeling of insignificance and a peaceful reaction was quite odd once I thought about it.  Now that I look back, I think I know why.  The calm wasn't because of the sight, and believe me, it was probably the most majestic thing I’ve ever seen.  I think the reason behind my peaceful feeling was because of the awesome magnitude of everything that I was struggling to comprehend.  I was close to my Absolute Perspective, and this was my pathway there:

Being kind of a geek at the time, I had heard somewhere that in the known universe, there were an estimated 120 billion galaxies… one of which, was mine.   In my galaxy, there was an estimated 200-400 billion stars… one of which, was mine.  That star had nine planets in its orbit… one of which, was mine.   On that planet there were about 5 billion people… one of which, was me.  Try and crunch those numbers real quick.

Insignificant couldn't even begin to define how I felt, the math spoke for itself.  Other thoughts popped in my head.

“If I were to collect every explosive on the planet, from 9mm bullets to nuclear warheads, and detonate them somewhere out in the Milky Way, nothing would be different, NOTHING!”
“Even if the whole planet exploded, it wouldn’t have any effect on the galaxy!!”

I finally realized that no matter what I did, there was no possible way I could ever have any effect on the universe I was looking up at.  Thus was my moment of Absolute Perspective.  This sight I was witnessing was a small glimpse of a place with infinite size, power and mystery, and there was no possible way for me to comprehend it, let alone influence it.  All I could ever do was look at it, enjoy it, and respect it.

That hour or two I spent staring upward took me on a staggering thought process that led to absolutely nowhere.  I didn’t grow as a person, and frankly, I didn’t learn anything new either.  At best, I finally took the time to understand the information I already had, but I enjoyed the Zen-like feeling it evoked.  All I could do then was yawn and make my way back to the sleeping bag to get some more rest.

Shuffling back to the area filled with my fellow “student ambassadors”, my thoughts fell back down to Earth.  When they did, a smile grew on my face.  I knew that in a few hours, the sun would be up.

Bringing a new day, and another few make out sessions.

Now that you know more about me, learn about the things around me:
Rusty Bolt
Voice of Others