Sometimes I imagine there’s a super-powered camera set up over us.
First, it hovers over me, recording what I decide to wear and eat and do in my free time. Then it zooms a little farther out, depicting in full detail the varied yet similar experiences of other human beings. The camera pulls out again over the Earth’s lush oceans, landscapes, and atmosphere. Finally, the billion-megapixel device captures our planet’s dazzling colors against the broad cloth of space and then zooms farther out into the solar system, then to the edge of the galaxy, then into the vast universe we most likely will never comprehend.
The camera, a product of my own imagination, helps me put my life in perspective. When I picture it zooming out of my personal life, I see how trivial many of my problems are in comparison to others’ real plights. Certainly the prevalent hunger for food, freedom, and a warm place to lay one’s head outweigh my privileged need to finish my last few credits toward a degree. My complaints about the painfully slow Internet connection on campus appear trifling next to a starving child’s desperation for a clean handful of water. I ache for these innocent human beings, reminding myself how truly fortunate I am to live in this era, on this continent, in this zip code.
When the camera zooms out to space, human consciousness appears even more infinitesimal. Microscopic, we crawl, walk, or wheel over this pale blue dot like germs on a flush button. The mass of Jupiter and Saturn dwarf our little rock, and the stars Betelguese and Aldebaran diminish even our gargantuan sun.
So much bigger than us, this universe can laugh at our reasoned cortices. We argue about which deity reigns over us and when this world will perish and whether life exists elsewhere. But when I envision the super-charged camera floating farther and farther away from us, I can’t imagine how we, with our tiny perceptions, can confidently ascribe any personality or will to this mysterious dark plain. How dare we think this great expanse exists solely for us? What makes ticks so special?
Putting life in this perspective doesn’t depress me: Instead, seeing myself as a single pixel on a screen the size of a bazillion Cowboys Stadium JumboTrons (and even larger) fills me with wonder and awe. How amazing it is that my little brain can perceive just a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and breathe solely oxygen yet make some semblance of sense out of this world? Love, hope, dream, desire? How is it that this world–these faces, these senses, these thoughts–means something to an ant like me? It’s baffling.
Yes, our lives can seem overwhelming. But if we zoom out just a little, we’ll see others in far worse conditions. If we zoom out even more, the problems become irrelevant. As Stephen Crane wrote, “One view[s] the existence of man then as a marvel, and concede[s] a glamour of wonder to these lice which [a]re caused to cling to a whirling, fire-smote, ice-locked, disease-stricken, space-lost bulb.” A mystifying and humbling yet completely awe-inspiring perspective–one it would behoove us to take more often.