Existential awe and earthquakes.


I’ve been vaguely, undefinably unwell for the past week, in that way that is signified purely by an overwhelming feeling of lethargy and ‘offness’. I’m not sure how that’s relevant, to be honest, except in the sense that it’s only now that I’m feeling vaguely human again, and inclined to respond to the things around me.

I walked to the shops a little while ago, the bright, shiny round moon lighting the indistinct shapes of clouds and the spaces between dark branches. Leonard Cohen in my headphones, a comfortably cool breeze. It wasn’t half bad, as moments go.

And then I was struck by one of those moments. The ones where you’re just doing your thing. Where you’re halfway to the supermarket and you look up at a bright star and you’re struck with the earth-shattering awe of “Holy fucking shit, that is there and real and I am here and real. And there’s a fragile little beam of light that could be turned aside by a mote of dust coming from that, but in billions and billions of miles nothing did, until it hit my eye.”

BAM, and there I was, teetering on the edge of existential awe, dizzy with the knowledge that me and my mp3s and my suddenly-too-light jacket are standing on the thin, thin crust of a rock hurtling through space at incredible speed, and the only thing keeping me from falling off is the warping of space and time themselves by the immensity of that rock.

And then I looked down, to the road in front of me, the trees and the cars and the people. And remembered that in all that immense, awe-inspiring grandeur, we’re the only ones that we know of who can do this. Who can write blog posts and pop down to the shops to pick up some dinner for each other and look up to the sky and realise that a beam of light could spend light-years never once being interrupted by a speck of dust until it hits our eye. Who can go out at night to gaze at the sheer enormity of it all, and bring along a thermos of cocoa to keep ourselves warm.

I couldn’t work out which one to be more awed by, which one was more inspiring and beautiful.

And then it hit me. I remembered where we are, that this thin crust of rock I’m standing on isn’t the stable thing it’s always been to me. And that, as it tends to do- as it should do- stopped me on my tracks. Because, of course, this universe with its mind-boggling distances and forces and complexities, is just what makes up everything around us. It’s not just a thing to stare into space and imagine. It’s rocks moving under your feet, and it’s waves higher than your house crashing over you and wiping away your life and everything you love and worked for. It’s real water, real rocks, real radiation risking and taking the lives of real people. Who are working their asses off to try and repair, try and rebuild, try and make sense of what can happen in a day.

The universe is pretty, but it doesn’t give a crap about you and me. Except for the bits of the universe that are you and me.

So, eh, you lot have donated to organisations working on disaster relief, right? Or, if that’s not affordable, pointed people who can afford to in the directions of some? And not just for Japan, mind. Haiti could certainly still do with a few £$€s, and they’re not the only ones. Cause, well. Not to be overly smushy or anything. But between you, me and a few light-years of rocks and empty space? We’re the only ones who give a crap.

 

3 thoughts on “Existential awe and earthquakes.

  1. Well put. When you read about supernovae and Gamma Ray Bursts and all manner of phenomena that have the potential to rapidly sterilise a planet clean, it’s amazing that life, not to mention bipedal apes with a fondness for LOLcats, ever managed to get a start here in the first place. The sheer fragility of our existence is probably belied only by the past few decades, and even then probably only because of geographical accident. It’s often only when we hear about car accidents that we realise how quickly all this could end.

  2. I just Googled the phrase “existential awe” in the vain hope that it’s actually a very common phrase with a usage to rival that of “existential angst”. Sadly, your blog post is the top hit, but hopefully it will catch on.

    Nonetheless, I wanted to share how pleased to see someone who finds beauty, peace, and, yes, meaning in an existential perspective. That being on our own, more at the mercy of physics than fate, can be cause for joy and goodwill rather than fear or anomie.

  3. My church gave its collection to Japan relief this Sunday, I’m glad for that.

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