Image taken of the Earth by Voyager, 5.76 billion kilometers away, in 1991, at the suggestion of Carl Sagan. Credits: NASA, 1991. I’ve retouched the photo to take out the original light reflections from the Voyager camera. That tiny white dot a little off center to the right is Earth. You may want to clean your computer screen of any other dust particles. That is where dinosaurs scuttled, continents jittered, Jesus claimed he was the son of a god, the Buddha found a truth, Julius Ceasar claimed victory over the whole world, Mick Jagger sang “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, a growing, vibrating spot of microbial beings threatened to overwhelm the dot, two tiny projectiles plinked against two folicles of concrete and it was claimed to be a changing point in the history of the dot, and a curiously unaware leader of the microbial beings squeaked out to the dot, “We have prevailed!”
I couldn’t sleep. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed I stumbled in the darkness out into the hallway and blearily made my way to the toilet. Cricket song rang through the open bathroom window and seemed to float on the chilly night air that poured in through the screen. Somewhere another sleepless soul, a jungle crow, cawed irritably among the treetops. I flushed the toilet and for a few moments the rushing water drowned out all other sounds and the closeness of the apartment made it seem as if the world ended at the walls around me. When the gurgling of the water cut off, suddenly the darkness opened around me again and the walls seemed to disappear. The clock ticked in the kitchen along to the hum of the refrigerator. LED lights from the microwave oven, the telephone, and the sleeping computer floated in the dimness, like distant city lights. A wraith of a moth softly batted at the kitchen window and then whirred away.
I heard myself whisper in the dark. “What are you afraid of?”
I broke open the refrigerator door, light streaming out like the Mother Ship, and ran my eye over the milk carton and carton of apple juice. Nothing I wanted, so I closed the door and stood a moment letting my eyes readjust. I picked out a glass from the drying rack and ran the faucet in the kitchen sink, filling the glass. More by feel than sight, I sipped from the rim, and felt the cool liquid run down my throat. A little spilled over onto my chin and the chill made me jump. The taste of chlorine and iron.
“Shouldn’t have to pay for this,” I whispered.
I tiptoed back to the bedroom door and looked in on my wife sleeping. The covers were partly thrown back and one knee was lifted. Her face, her closed eyes and slack lips, reflected the grey light from the window, all still. I leaned over the bed and as softly as I could, drew the blanket back around her. She stirred, the rhythm of her breathing momentarily paused, until it resumed again.
Last photo of the Earth taken from the surface of the moon, Apollo 17, 1972. I was twelve years old in Japan, Israel was at war with Egypt, my best friend Steven Radolinsky was about to return to the States, the human population had just reached three billion a year or two before. Credits: NASA, 1972
My fingers found my fleece jacket on the floor at the foot of the bed. I slipped it on and headed back out to the hallway, to the entrance way. Crouching down, I laced on my beat up sandals. They felt cold and the straps stiff when I pulled the tab. I unlatched the front door and pushed it open. Cool air rushed in, like a curious dog sniffing out the confines. The door closed with a heavy thud, which raised the hairs on my neck; the sound was so isolate and abrupt in the pre-dawn stillness. The soles of my sandals crunched on the gravel and I glided beneath the dark beards of unpruned Japanese maples and Japonica, the tips of leaves brushing the top of my head and shoulders. When I came out to the street the street light was blinking and a lone hawkmoth whizzed around the light, seeking a center that only it could see. Beyond the sphere of light neighborhood houses stood along the sides of the street, somber and dozing, and I passed, peering left and right, expecting any moment for someone in a window to shift position. A lone cat slid across my path, pausing only a moment to glance at me, before blending into the shadows.
I made my way to the nearby park, where open space, dewey grass, and the sky cut out of the frame of Tokyo let me stretch out a little and look up. All above hung a black curtain spilled with salt, with needles on end, with the powder of silver from a broken mirror, the fabric so thin and delicate that the skin of heaven shone through. I lay back in the wet grass, legs and arms spread out, my back soaking up the chilly damp, and breathed in and out. A satellite charged across the emptiness chasing a bear and a swan, hunted in turn by a soldier. I closed my eyes and heard the crickets again, millions of them, all in chorus, singing to the sky.
“What if this is not here tomorrow?” I murmured. “Who will remember me, in this moment?”
Sombrero Galaxy M104, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credits: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STSci/ AURA) Hubble Space Telescope ACSâ€¢STSciâ€¢PRC03-28