And Why It Even Matters
It is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans - 10% of the US population at the time - went to the streets to march in defiance at the destruction of our planet.
Personally, I don’t get that excited about trying to change the world or screaming at the governments or titans of industry. Yet, I can’t help but think of the Earthrise photo above as a chance for us to think about ourselves.
Earth Day has a very hippie feel to it, but I believe that it is both our human technology and our human capacity for love that brought Earth Day into existence.
Earth Day may have been born with Americans marching in the streets in 1970, but the conception came on the morning of Christmas Eve 1968. It was perhaps not as immaculate as the conception of Jesus. Yet, there was still something almost spiritual when one of the astronauts on Apollo 8, Bill Anders, turned his camera away from their mission objective, the moon, and focused it on that glowing blue and green marble in the sky we call Earth. [Feel free to scroll back up and admire it once again.]
He captured Earth, our only home, in a way that we had never seen before. He saw it the way we imagined God had always looked down on us. That photo changed our fundamental perspective of the world and our place in it.
For one, he confirmed for the first time that our world is spherical. Pythagoras and other ancient Greek thinkers may have figured it out through math and science before, but it was this photo that made it so that even those not-so-good at math could see what we were never quite sure about. He turned theory into reality even for the greatest thinkers.
As we travel around the world, we must feel the Earth is just too big sometimes. Yet, from space, even as close as the moon or the international space station; we can see that our irreplaceable home is just another medium-sized planet in one solar system, in one galaxy, in an incomprehensibly infinite universe.
It sounds exhausting to fly from one pole to another - or impossible to walk from one to the other - but from space, we can see it as just an ant trail.
Seeing Earth all alone out there in space, we realized it was not this indestructible rock we can take for granted. Our Earth is just as small and insignificant on the scale of the galaxy as we are on the scale of the Earth. Feeling this and knowing this, we are allowed to feel a need to nurture, and even love, our planet.
This feeling may be a given now for many, but before, it was a new idea, a new sensation.
When we see Earth from space, we can appreciate how she has protected us and nurtured us, much like a tree gives home and life and protection for a slew of insects and animals. Earth is not just a rock, it is an organism that grows and dies, just like us.
We can better appreciate now how that thin membrane that protects us from all the universe throws at it - meteorites, solar rays, cosmic rays - is also now capable of being destroyed by those it protects… Us.
Unlike Mars which is a barren desert, our planet has an atmosphere full of oxygen that gives us our rich, bountiful, and breathable home. This amazing difference that only exists for us in immeasurable distances all around only appears as a thin halo. A halo that we should consider as angelic as it looks.
From out in space, we are naturally filled with a sense of generosity towards Earth. We can even smile at ourselves a little. We are so lucky to have been born in a world that gives us so much.
More than that, all of our flaws as humans seem to fall away at the greatness that is our planet.
The Earth reminds us to be a little more patient and warm. It reminds us that even in the infinite darkness that is existence, there is light and caring and kindness. The selfless Earth represents a better us, a chance for us to be thankful and fond of those around us who have also given without asking for anything in return.
Right now, there are:
Children begging for a toy
Kittens walking on keyboards
Flowers blooming in a garden
Babies being born in hospital lights
Adults crying about loss
People laughing at silly jokes
There are humans longing for a chance at redemption and others unaware of how lucky they are. There is struggle. There are mistakes. Yet, there is hope.
Earth day, for me, isn’t about complaining about polluting factories or money-focused governments. It’s about striving towards a universal sense of compassion and patience.
Seeing the Earth the way we do now may get rid of our ability to imagine some divine being looking down on us that we can ask for help. However, it offers us the chance to take responsibility for ourselves and our generous, yet fragile, home.
We may be getting rid of the man in the sky, but we can still adopt the ideas behind the metaphors originally intended to make us better people. A gentle reminder of our need:
To be kind
It may sound scary that it is up to us to give these divine gifts to one another rather than receive them from a more powerful entity we can never see, but it is something we should strive towards given what we know now. If that means replacing pictures of Jesus for pictures of Earth on our kitchen walls, then that could be a nice and gentle reminder that a man like Jesus would approve of.
Before we feared the power of God and prayed for his grace. Now, with all the reminders of how powerful we ourselves are, we should learn to fear what we ourselves are capable of and of how vulnerable we truly are. With that knowledge, we should learn to better take care of ourselves and our home.
Happy 50th Earth Day.