Theme by nostrich.
“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.”
I’m not exactly the queen of articulating thoughts and feelings coherently, but Carl Sagan would be 76 years old today, and fictional characters and family members aside, this man has probably been one of the most influential figures in my life, and I probably would be a profoundly different person without his presence in my life, so I guess I kind of am obligated to give this a shot. So.
The first sentence of the introduction of Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot is “We were wanderers from the beginning,” and I first read that sentence when I was sixteen, sitting in the middle of the science aisle in Barnes and Noble. Reading that sentence just made my stomach do a sort of back flip, made the back of my arms feel cold like when you see something really beautiful and/or really scary. It’s a good opening sentence. It hooked me. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that my 16 year old delinquent self totally shop lifted that book, but I’m not going to act like I regret doing it, because I read the whole thing over the next two days and it was arguably the best thing that ever happened to me. When I finished Pale Blue Dot, I felt something that I don’t think I’d ever felt before, this combination of love and yearning and curiosity and satisfaction that I still don’t know the word for, if there is a word for it. I felt that, and I can’t remember whether or not I cried, but given my track record with crying over books, I probably did. And then I flipped the book over and started reading it again. So that’s how my Carl Sagan Thing started.
After I read Pale Blue Dot, I read a copy of Cosmos I found in my dad’s office, and then I borrowed VHS recordings of Cosmos from my English teacher, and I got The Demon Haunted World and Contact from the library and…so it went. And books by other authors, too, and there were the PBS specials and so on and so on — it’s like he told me a secret, about how mind blowingly AMAZING the universe is, and once I’d found out I couldn’t get enough. It’s been…five years? Since I first read Pale Blue Dot and it’s still my favorite, but that’s not really why I admire Doctor Sagan so much, and it’s not because he taught me about cosmic microwave background radiation or that the only thing more important than curiosity is kindness or because of the hilarious thing with that HG Wells style time machine in that episode of Cosmos.
It’s because he — not just his books but pretty much everything about the man he was — inspires me. Doctor Sagan wasn’t just a man, or a scientist, or That Space Guy that Smoked A Lot of Weed, he was a spark of light and hope in a world that can be really fucking scary, at a time when it was at its scariest. And Richard Dawkins is, I think, actually the person that described science as “the poetry of reality,” but I don’t think there’s anyone who understood that better than Doctor Sagan, and what was really wonderful was his incredible talent to make other people understand that.
So if I get a little cheesy and sentimental when I talk about Carl Sagan, I guess what I’m trying to explain is I think I have pretty good reason to! He’s had a really immense effect on my life and the lives of lots and lots of other people, and he deserves to have people gush about him like goofy fangirls sometimes, and I never really know how to actually end stuff I write so I’m just going to stop talking. Happy Birthday, Doctor Sagan, and thank you for everything.
”In our tenure of this planet we’ve accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders — all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we’ve also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity.”