Archive for October 9th, 2022


earth-full-view 1972

I saw a cold, dark, black emptiness. It was unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth. It was deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. I turned back toward the light of home. I could see the curvature of Earth, the beige of the desert, the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky. It was life. Nurturing, sustaining, life. Mother Earth. Gaia. And I was leaving her.

Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong.

I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things—that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe. In the film “Contact,” when Jodie Foster’s character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, “They should’ve sent a poet.” I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.

It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.

I learned later that I was not alone in this feeling. It is called the “Overview Effect” and is not uncommon among astronauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Michael Collins, Sally Ride, and many others. Essentially, when someone travels to space and views Earth from orbit, a sense of the planet’s fragility takes hold in an ineffable, instinctive manner. Author Frank White first coined the term in 1987: “There are no borders or boundaries on our planet except those that we create in our minds or through human behaviors. All the ideas and concepts that divide us when we are on the surface begin to fade from orbit and the moon. The result is a shift in worldview, and in identity.”

–William Shatner, Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder

A convergence of things this morning. One of the first things I came across was a short excerpt from the new autobiography from William Shatner that came out earlier this week. This excerpt, featured above, was about his voyage into near space that took place last October.

Reading it, I could easily imagine the feelings he experienced, the dread and grief of seeing all you know and love beyond reach as you plunge into the deepest darkness of the universe.

Geez, I get that feeling when I have to venture beyond the mailbox at the end of our driveway.

It reinforced my own feelings on this planet. I like this place and, while I kind of understand the desire to venture boldly toward new frontiers, feel that we are extraordinarily fortunate to be here.

Earth is a gift.

With cooperation and an eye to its fragility, this Earth could easily provide us with all we need for all foreseeable time.

I feel some of that same dread and grief knowing that we probably don’t have the ability to transcend our shortcomings– greed, bigotry, and any of the other Seven Deadly Sins— in a way that would allow us to achieve widespread cooperation or provide the needed care.

But we are here.


We live in a world that is filled with beauty and wonders, yet we dream of hurtling through space toward near planets that are inhospitably hot or cold, with unbreathable atmospheres and without water or lifeforms. At least any that we can recognize or understand.

I don’t know that there’s any point to this. Shatner’s words just rang out at me this morning.

The convergence I mentioned came after I had decided to write about the excerpt from Shatner’s book. I opened the YouTube opening page to find a matching song for post and for this week’s Sunday Morning Music. The first thing I saw was a recommended listing for a song called Earthlings from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

I had featured Nick Cave earlier in the week and don’t usually like to share two songs from the same artist in the same week (though I had done this already this week with John Prine) but this just seemed to match up too well to not use it. Plus, it has a seasonal touch with its mention of Halloween.

So, here’s that song from Nick Cave, for all of us– Earthlings and non-Earthlings alike.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: