Last week, according to some real news, Earth got a wave hello from far away, from some-3-billion-year-old vibrations that were set off when two black holes smashed into each other. (Really? There’s not room for both of you up there?) According to the New York Times, the collision—reported by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which felt the signal—resulted in “a pit of infinitely deep darkness weighing as much as 49 suns.” And this is old hat, because such gravitational waves have reached Earth two other times just in the last couple of years. Albert Einstein, that guy with the hair and the mustache, had predicted they’d come, after he figured out that gravity is just a warping of spacetime.
Though my mind exploded, I was relieved to read about the space-time crash and its resulting wave. Because just before that I had read about Donald Trump’s latest hideous gaffe/idiocy/embarrassment/middlefingertotheworld (the “I want to be in front” shove? Covfefe? Paris Accord pullout? Bullying of London mayor? So many to choose from that I can’t even pick a link to include, so here’s a video of funny cats). And I felt sick inside and worried for the future. I was, as I often am these days, angry and sad and baffled that it’s come to this.
After noticing the black-hole headline and clawing through the story’s first paragraph, though, I began thinking about the fact that I don’t even know how to think about this fact. I like pictures of animals hugging. My brain simply doesn’t do the gymnastics needed to wrap my head around holes in the universe that run into each other (isn’t a hole a lack of something? How can two lack of somethings collide?) and pulses traveling for billions of years that rattle an observatory in the U.S. and that scientists can point to and say, hey, there are those vibrations we’ve been waiting for! Einstein was right!
It made me try to imagine how I, were I this space-time bump in the night, might have signaled the Earth.
I’m thinking my signal would be part sound, that of a million species of birds chattering over a high-pitched wolf howl and the happy screams of kids on the Tilt-a-Whirl. And that would be followed by skies full of exploding fireworks that shower the Earth in confetti made of butter pats and sweet tarts, in colors we don’t even have names for. Or how about if the signal put all Earthlings into a sort of LSD-fueled fever dream (I’ve always wanted to use that term, fever dream) populated by dancing, spinning octopi tentacles whipping the backs of our eyelids and knees with shots of cold fire.
This is how I distract myself from things I don’t understand. Because my brain hurts trying to get how scientists even know to look for this signal, in whatever form, and then can say with confidence what it is and what it means. I lack the language to even ask sensical questions. This ain’t monkeys throwing poop from a tree. That I understand.
Mostly, these big events remind me how little I know. And how little I matter.
But that’s actually a good thing. Because (and I’m finally circling back around now) THAT reminds me how little Trump knows—not that I needed that reminder—and, more important, how little Trump matters.
It helps. Because we’ve all been feeling a bit depressed lately, no? It’s nearly impossible not to see what’s happening right now as the big everything, and to want to try to steer the big everything in the right direction and to feel utterly beaten down by our impotence.
But we can have at least once-a-day freedom from fear and loathing by stepping back from it all to think about holes in the big sky and pulses from beyond and years in the billions. Because the truth is, we, but right now especially Donald Trump, are the shine on a bubble of spittle on a piece of lint atop the mustache of the solar system; the nucleus of a single dead skin cell tucked inside a pimple on the butt of the galaxy; 1/gazillionth of a grain of sand forever caught in the 2nd cotton layer of the crotch of the bathing suit of the Universe. [Your silly TinyTrump analogy here. Come on: It feels good.]
And what happens next, today, tomorrow, in four years or eight, well, in the end of everything it doesn’t matter one iota. Take comfort, if briefly. Then, if you must (and we all must), you can go back to being terribly, terribly afraid.
Photo by M. Mingle, downloaded from SPLASH