Five hours back, my wife and I were bundled against the cold, watching the lunar eclipse progress. Gradually, the portion of the moon in clear light shrank to zero, leaving a pale shadowy disc that is somehow more clearly a sphere than the brightly illuminated circle that we call a “full moon.” We joked about getting kitchen pots to bang together to scare away the dragon that was eating the moon, but our sleeping neighbors would not have enjoyed that. There was no dragon, of course, it was merely the moon being briefly shadowed from Planet Earth coming between it and the Sun.
On a deeper level, you can’t blame primitive peoples too much for the “dragon eats the moon” thing. A lunar eclipse is really not much of a Spectacle, but it is an amazing brain teaser. You are forced into realization of the largeness of the universe, and the randomness of it as well. It is a bunch of rocks revolving around each other, and even, uh oh not a good thing to think about, sometimes colliding. That’s what we would call the “end of the world” which most of us think would require intervention of a deity. But really, our sense of stability is misplaced- a central lesson of watching an eclipse. Millions of us on a curved planetary surface look “up” to watch our shadow on another curved surface- there is really no “up”, no “down” either, there is just “that way” or “this way”- Galileo taught us that we are not the Center of Everything, we are just a piece of Everything.
I call this notion “Speckhood”- the idea that the 7 billion humans are just a brief biological infestation of a suitable environment on a minor globe of rock and water. We think that we inhabit permanence and solidity so long as we follow the rules, but we truly inhabit randomness and impermanence. Some of us have the temerity to assert that nothing can change the inviting and fostering environment in which we live- despite the fact that some 250,000 of us died this year in earthquakes, floods, etc. WE certainly have no power to affect the yummy environment in which we find ourselves, or so declare the climate change deniers, scoffing at the notion that a mere 7 billion of our fellow “specks” could actually put out enough carbon dioxide to change the temperature of our “sky.” That’s the same thing the colony of mold said just before it consumed the last of the piece of forgotten bread in the kitchen of the family vacationing at Disneyworld.
Yes we dwell in impermanence. There is a beauty to that impermanence, as we gaze upon the occluded moon and the star Betelgeuse, an unimaginably large sphere of nuclear fire unimaginably distant, burning in the dark emptiness of space. But impermanence is also scary, when you think about it too much. Time to get back to sleep…..