Recently I had a couple close encounters with both life and death — the essence of existence on earth; I lost my father just four months before becoming one. It’s been dizzying, and the mystery is humbling. But while these events seem rare and extraordinary to me, they are universal in human experience. Truly rare and extraordinary are the daily details and the uniqueness of an individual life, the people that people it and the way it’s lived.
On a basic level we all live the same way: we are born, we grow up (if we’re lucky), we live in communities, we hate, love, reproduce, study, work, eat, bathroom, sleep and eventually die. On the grand scale of time, the whole process happens very quickly. If reproduction is in the cards, there will be the process of attraction to courtship to sex to orgasm: sperm to egg to pregnancy to birth. All these processes are always happening, as I write this and as you read it. Every single minute, there are about a hundred deaths across the world, and more than twice as many births.
We ride the forces that shape life on this planet, in perpetual motion. Even in quiet moments and even during sleep, we cannot escape the fierce motion of the universe.
All “day” long half the planet is in sleep mode — their sun sets as ours rises. It is, of course, the same star (which incidentally the earth would fit into over a million times). However, even during the stillest night and the deepest sleep, we move extremely fast. Our planet is spinning on its axis at over one thousand miles per hour. While we spin, we also orbit the sun at over a thousand miles a minute. At this speed we could go from New York City to Switzerland in four minutes.
Our average-yet-special star and all of the planets in our solar system live on the outer edge of the spiraling Milky Way Galaxy, which is itself spinning at over 9,000 miles per minute. At this speed we could go from New York to Switzerland in less than 30 seconds.
The Milky Way, as part of the “Local Group” of galaxies, also happens to be in motion, at over 11,000 miles per minute. That’s New York City to Thailand in less than a minute — we’re talking teleportation. So when life seems dizzying it may be simply because it’s structured that way.
Meanwhile, the entire universe is expanding; every single thing in the universe is in perpetual motion, and therefore constantly changing. This fact underlies the fleeting moment called a lifetime, and highlights why time is so precious. Close proximity to life and death makes it very clear that every life is special; a transitory and unique phenomenon in time and space that should be valued as such. Change is the only constant. Motion the rule, and time the true gold. The challenge is to act accordingly.
Nicky Enright is a local multimedia artist. Points of View is an occasional column open to all readers