The joy of feeling small.
August reminded me, twice, of this famous exchange between sister and brother in Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play, Our Town:
Rebecca: I never told you about a letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter, and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.
George: What’s funny about that?
Rebecca: But listen, it’s not finished: The United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God — that’s what it said on the envelope.
I was also reminded of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten, A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero, which begins with a couple having a picnic in a Chicago park and expands to the outermost limits of the known 1977 universe, then returns to the picnic and journeys inward to the subatomic landscape of a man’s hand. Turns out everything is mostly space, whether we venture out or in.
I first saw the play, as you probably did, in high school. Thinking of my precious, self-obsessed existence from a cosmic viewpoint was an eye-opener.
I first saw the Eames film immediately after coming off a weeklong rafting trip on the Grand Canyon— making the film even more mind-widening. View it here: http://bit.ly/ 1gn7Jxb (sorry about the ad).
First: In early August I rafted the Gates of Lodore—a social experience, to be sure, what with family (the Mottonens), skilled boatmen (Holiday River Expeditions) and congenial strangers who quickly became companions. And the water of the Green, and then Yampa, rivers: That, of course, is the obvious focus of a river trip. But the ancient geology—rocks that are old even for rocks—was the dominating theme, mile after fiver mile. To feel humble in the face of ancient forces is, I think, a good thing.
Then, on August 21, I was among the masses who journeyed to a place of totality. From the bluff of a ranch near Dubois, Wyoming, along with 100 friends and friends of friends, I experienced the celestial and lunar clockwork where, predestined, like gears, the bodies lined up and created a goosebumpy two minutes never to be forgotten.
While there are endless stars in the Universe, we depend on our star, our sun. When the cool of totality descended and stars appeared, it was easy to imagine not only the awe but the dread of ancients who knew, far better than we, that the sun is our source of sustenance. I haven’t done yoga in years but was compelled, with joy and gratitude, to participate in Sun Salutation as the light and warmth returned.
Greta Belanger deJong is the founder, editor and publisher of CATALYST.