We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some–perhaps many–may have inhabited planets and spacefaring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message:
This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.
— President Jimmy Carter, 1977
The other night I had a dream, and the best way to describe that dream would be to take my entire life and imagine every last second of it was filmed, tiny little moment by tiny little moment, and after filming was completed someone decided to completely mix the order of events around. As the moments played out in random order and became more frantic and urgent, fast-forwarding as if searching for some clearer, happier snapshots, the wheels begin to come off of the grand narrative and events start bleeding in to each other, memories mixing haphazardly together in a chaotic, hypnotic dance, like different shades of paint being thrown in to the same bucket and shaken violently to create something profound and unintended. It was as if someone had let a schizophrenic loose in the editing room in my brain and, as with all people when they’re witnessing some weird dream playing out inside their skull, I felt like I was both involved and yet also completely alienated from the events unfolding – a weird cross between a reluctant participant and a shocked observer. After what felt like ages, just sitting there watching this post-modern interpretation of my life, I woke up suddenly and found myself drenched in sweat, my heart feeling both heavy and light, a feather made of iron crashing back down to the Earth. I felt like my heart was beating fast, too fast for me to catch up to it, but when I put my hand on my chest it was making its normal war-drum beat – thump-thump, thump-thump – and I tried to fall back asleep but sleep wouldn’t come.
Outside were the sounds of my city…a car drives too fast through the alley, kicking up rocks and dust, scattering discarded lottery tickets and bottle caps like a dirty game of pool. There’s the faint and yet somehow sharp sound of a dog barking, muffled by the walls of the apartment complex I live in. I hear the bass notes of “Only In Dreams” – once again, I forgot to turn my laptop off before going to bed, and I laugh at how perfect it is that that song is playing at this moment. The rain, barely loud enough to be heard through glass and wood, is whipped violently against my window by a phantom gust of wind. There’s no sound I love more than the sound of rain tapping against my window softly in the middle of the night, a special little melody that soothes both the brain and bones alike. For fifteen minutes I laid there in my bed, eyes frozen on the ceiling, enveloped in the darkness of my room, and while I laid there I began to scan the grooves cut in to the plaster of my ceiling, an entire map above my bed now dim and white, mountains and valleys and harsh lines cutting and splintering every which way imaginable, and I marvel at how a mind so active and volatile a few moments before can suddenly become so still. It was then that I realized why my sleep was so troubled:
I am lost.
When I am lost and feeling lonely I need fresh air, and quickly throwing on some clothes I walked out of my apartment, got in my car, and drove across town to a park I loved going to back in the early days of college, back when life was simpler than it is now (maybe it wasn’t simple back then, but it sure feels that way lately). I walked to the center of the park and proceeded to just lay down on my back, staring up at the stars just like I was doing with the plaster of my ceiling. The rain had stopped and I had no problem getting wet anyways. We as a species have invented dryers, so I was sure I would get over it. In the heavens the lights were blinking and twinkling as they always were, stars that might as well be brothers to our own Sun, casting their glow for all known observers in the Universe, the light from those stars speeding towards me at 186,000 miles per second (that would be the speed of light for those following along at home). I imagined that somewhere out there in those little pools of light and ink-black darkness was another planet, one just like our very own but billions upon billions of miles away, a planet that we will never see or reach. On that planet was a kid who looked just like me — same dorky glasses, same worn-out pair of shoes that, at least on this planet, are referred to as “Chucks” — and just like me he was staring off in to stars above and imagining the very same thing: that there is life out there, that some other pair of eyes must be staring right back across the farthest reaches of the universe, and having this thought can not help but make you feel like one grain of sand in the middle of the Sahara Desert.