Mankind has only been recording his history for a paltry 5,000 years. By contrast, the Earth upon which we live is over 4.5 billion years old. When I was younger – 12 or so – I had an entire series of Time-Life books covering everything from reptiles and dinosaurs to earthquakes and the universe. I read them all – some volumes more than others. Though I was unfamiliar with the term at the time, those books caused me to suffer an Existential Moment when I read that, in 5 billion years or so, our sun would run out of gas and begin to consume the Earth.
Being only 12 years old I really had no conception as to how distant 5 billion years was but, to my mind, it seemed like next week. I remember not being able to sleep very well night.
Silly how certain things like that bother us when we’re young.
And so it was reading a story online about a photo that was taken – actually two photos taken 30 years apart yet framed together to form an image more powerful than any I had seen recently.
It reminded me of something which William Shakespeare wrote:
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
The picture is of a father and his son. The image on the left was captured at the launch of the first Space Shuttle and the second one of the last Space Shuttle launch. Chris Bray is the son and he posted it on his Flickr account. In 1981, Chris’ dad, Kenneth, was 39 and Chris was but 13.
The human condition is one of fragility. If it’s too cold, we die. If it’s too hot, we die. Too much water, we drown. Not enough water, we die of thirst.
Son becomes father and father becomes grandfather all within the space of but 30 years.
It is a poignant image of how few years we have on this Earth.
In May, my fiancée put her cat to sleep. Angie was only 9 or 10. I have owned a number of cats over the years and, if you were given a cat the day you were born and only replaced it once it had died and each cat lived for 14 years, you would only live long enough to own 5 cats from birth to death. One cat I owned, whom I found when she was only 4 weeks old, lived her entire life inside the walls of my studio apartment and only left a handful of times. She was 13 when she died.
My fiancée adopted a new cat today… a little kitten about 8 weeks old and thus the cycle continues…
We can watch all the History Channel shows we want on the Middle Ages or Ancient Greece, but the human mind can’t understand 5 billion years much less the 1,700 years since the Western Roman Empire fell.
But the two photos taken above 30 years apart can be understood by us.
Looking at that image, I’m not sure if I makes me feel happy or sad.
It reminds me of that expression that goes like this:
Without the bitter life would not be so sweet.