My mom is obsessed with space. She always has been. I remember watching Space Camp as a kid, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every single version of Apollo 13 ever made (though the one with Tom Hanks is, of course, my favorite). When I was little, we had styrofoam painted planets hanging from our kitchen ceiling. I can still see them spinning there, Saturn with its colored paper rings, Jupiter with the giant red spot, hand-drawn on one side. Let’s face it, in my mind, Pluto will always belong up there with them. (Sorry, Not a Planet).
While my mom may have wanted to give us the moon, she gave us the world, instead. At a young age, we flew through the clouds to discover secret Mayan temples in Central America. We traveled to Germany and walked through eerie, deserted concentration camps; we took pictures next to the Berlin Wall. History came to life through her eyes, and we did too.
So I guess she’s to blame for my obsession with the world. I think of her often when I’m far away, staring up at the night sky with its crescent shaped upside-down moon, knowing she’d have the perfect explanation. Sometimes, when I’m looking up at the stars in awe, I hear her voice saying that they’re probably space shuttles or satellites, and I secretly hope my wishes aren’t being wasted.
Trying to capture the moon’s silly antics in Ghana, 2014
I think about the astronauts, too. I think about them floating in space, seeing the world as a tiny speck, knowing they too, are a tiny speck in the vastness of the Universe. I find myself wondering: How could they ever cope with coming home? How heavy must gravity feel after being weightless? How trivial, minuscule, unimportant our daily life must appear? How do they ever return to routine? Who do they talk to, and how can they relate to us normal folk? “Hey, remember that one time we almost got sucked into that gaping black hole? Man, that was a close one!” They can say to no one, ever.
I feel a little bit like this, sometimes. I may not have orbited the world in space, but I’ve come pretty close on land, and I’m not sure how to come back down. I can feel something pulling me back to earth, back to a life of stability and a little bit more predictability. Back to
reality. Scratch that. Towards a different reality.
When I began this journey a year ago, I desperately wanted freedom. I wanted to shake off old habits and release past versions of myself. I wanted to stop carrying the world on my shoulders, because no one was asking me to, anyway.
In many ways, it worked. I don’t feel the burdens of responsibility and obligation like I did before. I don’t feel pressure to be anyone but myself, to please anyone but me. I feel light, carefree, content. Freedom, presence, being, this is my new existence and I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up just yet.
Still, there’s a part of me that misses what gravity feels like. There’s a part of me that wonders how to matter, how to live a life of significance while traveling so quickly and far away? I feel almost guilty for being so free, like the whole thing is a scam and I’m somehow becoming less and less real as time goes on. Milan Kundera talks about this contradiction in his book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
“Life’s so light. Like an outline we can’t ever fill in or correct… make any better. It’s frightening.”
For whatever reason, sometimes just being can feel unbearable. Like it’s somehow not enough. We can’t measure it. So we build our lives around things that give us weight. We create families and schedules to give us a reason to wake up every day. We invent categories and boxes to place ourselves and others in, and then we close the lids tight and add heaps of responsibility on top, hoping our dreams won’t escape.
“The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
I’m told (by my mother), that astronauts are a bit shaky and wobbly when coming back to earth. After experiencing life without gravity, the weight of this force actually makes them sick. It slows them down, sticks to the soles of their feet. But, maybe in some regard, they’re grateful. Grateful to feel the weight of their own bodies, grateful for a pace of life slower than the speed of light.
Or maybe after the hugs, and the kisses from the wives and children, they secretly sneak out onto the porch late at night, gazing up at the moon. I bet they look at the stars and call their favorite ones by name. I bet they miss feeling insignificant, like tiny specks in a too-huge Universe. Maybe, just maybe, they secretly wish they could feel the unbearable lightness of being again.
*Photos of astronauts credit Hunter Freeman, taken from this website.