This One Time, 120

This one time it was raining down fire and brimstone from the sky and ash plumes ascended to the heavens like the pointless prayers of the damned — but that’s nothing new. This place we call home has a double-armload of erupting volcanoes on any given day. If that’s all it takes for us to decide that God thinks we’re worthless, then it’s long past time for us to curl up, curse God, and die.

A wise man once said that the last thing in the world that we need is honest perspective, a true understanding of our worth to the universe and our place in it. So let’s be fools for a moment. Let’s be damn fools. Let’s take a good long look.

At any given time, there are around five hundred active volcanoes, with about forty of them actually erupting. Lightning strikes the surface of the earth eleven times per second. The United States alone gets around 1200 tornadoes per year, more than any other nation of earth — a special sign of God’s blessing. The world gets fifty tropical storms and cyclones and hurricanes worthy of note every year, with attendant flooding and destruction. Earthquakes have been particularly spectacular lately. And then there was that solar flare-up thing the scientists haven’t agreed on a name for yet.

Where was I? Perspective. Right. Well, here’s our problem. If the earth was the size of a basketball, the earth’s crust, the barely solidified part we insist on living on and calling solid ground, would be about half the thickness of a hair, like the skin of a balloon. This “solid ground” is constantly in motion, like leaves floating on a stream, bumping into one another, overlapping, climbing over or sinking under one another, wrinkling up, fracturing as it cools down and dries up. It expands as the sun heats it up and contracts when it cools down. And that’s just the rock part. On top of that is sand and dust and mud and a few dozen feet of organic slurry, and that’s what we burrow into to feel safe. We put up the tallest buildings we can, with the bases nailed into this muck, and then we cry like babies when the earth moves or the wind blows and they fall down with all our friends and families in them.

And then there’s the oceans, and I’m not saying much about them because we know more about the surface of the moon, 250,000 miles away, than we know about the surface of the ocean floor or anything that lives farther down than a few hundred feet. We’ve never tried to live there — at least not in recent memory — but it’s funny for me to think that maybe life left the ocean to give the land a try because it was pretty scary in there, and dry land, as shaky as it is, was worth a shot.

Meanwhile, back up in the sky, there’s all the pretty stars and stuff. Let’s look at the moon. I said we know a lot about it, but the most interesting thing to me is where it came from. You know what our best guess is? The earth itself gave birth to it — when we got hit by a rock the size of Mars about four and a half billion years ago. And our oceans? Possibly hand-delivered by a steady rain of icy comets over a billion years or so. Face it. We’re a little metal duck in a cosmic shooting gallery. It really is just a matter of time until another rock whips in out of nowhere and busts things up real good. It won’t take one the size of Mars to wreck our day. Remember how and where we live? A rock about the size of Manhattan ought to do it. We’ll die to the last man, woman, and child.

We’ve got a good eye out for rocks these days, but we know we haven’t spotted them all. And also there’s out interstellar neighbors. Most of them seem pretty quiet, but not all of them. A supernova or a gamma ray burst or a larger version of that tiny belch thing our own sun just went through would bake us to the core. And there’s stuff we don’t even know about out there, because the only things we can see are the ones carrying around their own light, or cold stuff that just happens to be close enough to one of the light sources. If you were on the moon, looking at earth at night through a telescope, you’d know absolutely nothing about anything farther than ten feet away from a streetlight. That’s us looking up at the stars.

But lets think smaller. There aren’t even ten billion of us here. We’re massively wasteful and territorial and do a great job at squabbling and keeping our own numbers down, but really, that seems pretty senseless once we look at all the other creatures we share this thin skin of floating rock with that are also trying to kill us. Plagues, pestilence … we’re outnumbered in our own bodies ten billion to one. We’re dependent on our crops of microbes, internal and external, to help us digest our food, to keep track of the seasons, to do God alone knows what, but the more we try to kill them all, the sicker we get. We count on them to kill one another, to keep the bad ones down, to limit the number that climb into our cells and paste themselves into our very genes for us to pass along to our children. Our new hybrid human-microbe children. And keep in mind, while they need us to live, they don’t need us to be civilized. Just numerous, to give themselves a fighting chance to survive should global disaster strike. They need us to fight with one another so we can be strong enough to carry them everywhere we can go.

We could all seven billion of us fit in a square a hundred miles on a side, standing flat on the ground, with more than enough room each to swing a cat. If we scrunched up a bit, we could do it in a forty mile square. That’s everybody on the planet. We are the greediest, most arrogant creatures in existence to think we amount to anything for any kind of God to take note of, even for him to squash us like bugs.

Every achievement we’ve made that we think of as worthwhile was made in the past five thousand years. In the history of life on earth, in the history of humanity even, that’s us scrambling to turn in a few paragraphs of an essay in the thirty seconds before the final exam is due to be handed in. And when you consider how many of those wonders were built on the back of slaves or in lieu of feeding starving children, then there’s nothing left to do but hang our heads in shame.

But what are we gonna do? For all of that, we’re the last, best hope for the survival of anything down here on earth. For each other. For every last tiny ant and worm and parasite and case of the sniffles.

You know what? And remember I’m saying this as a man of God, but forget God. Forget heaven. Forget hell. We have to straighten our selves up, and fast, right now, if we’re going to survive the next few ticks of the cosmic clock. We can’t afford to keep squabbling, to fight among our selves, to lose perspective. Perspective is the only thing that’s going to save us. God save us.

Ellen’s going to play the piano for a few minutes now, and if any of you feel like singing, Charles is going to lead us in a hymn. Four or five men we think we can trust with a hat full of cash are going to pass around some baskets. Do what you can, and we’ll do our best to put what you give us to good use.

God save us all.


April 30, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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