“I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” -Isaac Newton
“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.” -Christopher Reeve
Today is Columbus Day here in the United States. And unlike pretty much everyone else I know, I’ve been looking forward to Columbus Day for weeks, now.
After all, it’s not like I get off from work, or that I think Columbus was some idealized version of a human being. One needs to look only at Columbus’ own words to know what motivated him to take his great journey from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean:
“But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain till I collect as much as possible, and for this purpose I am proceeding solely in quest of them.”
That, coupled with the eventual destruction of the indigenous people of the Americas’ civilizations, has led many (including three of my country’s states) to reject the holiday outright.
But I look forward to it, anyway, and I’m excited now that it’s here!
Columbus Day, to me, is the one day of the year that we commemorate the human spirit of exploration. And — to me — there’s nothing quite like… well…
That’s right. The sky. The stars. The heavens. Up. Whatever you want to call it, it’s everything external to the Earth.
Not that the Earth isn’t wonderful. (Pictures of it leave me awestruck all the time.) It’s home to us all. It’s just that…
Well, it’s just that the Earth is so little. And there’s so much beyond it, so much that’s out there, that we’re only beginning to get a handle on.
We live in a galaxy, tens of thousands of light years across, containing hundreds of billions of stars.
Our Sun, the root of all life on Earth, isn’t much to look at. We’re only now discovering that these stars out there are loaded with planets! At first, they were mostly big, gas giants (like the four we have), but we’ve started to discover rocky, Earth-like planets, too.
And who knows what sort of life is out there? For all we know, there might have been life (or could even still be life) elsewhere in our own Solar System!
But all of that doesn’t even scratch the surface of our Universe. Our galaxy, tens of thousands of light years in size, doesn’t even compare to the Universe as a whole, which is tens of billions of light years in size, and contains about a trillion galaxies!
We’re only now — over the last 100 years — figuring out how to make sense of all of this. And what we’ve got now isn’t perfect: we’ve still got a lot of unanswered questions.
The beauty of it, though, is that, whatever “the right answer” actually is, we’re a lot closer to it now, at this moment in time, than we’ve ever been before. Columbus Day isn’t just a time to mark the spirit of exploration that compels us to seek what’s out there, it’s a time to mark just how far we’ve come in our understanding!
And also, of course, to mark just how far we’ve explored, and where we came from.
And that’s what always gets me excited about Columbus Day. So explore something today. Learn about it. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!