Comets, Stardust, and Dancing

This is the rough draft of a talk I did for Sunday Assembly NYC in December of 2013. What I ended up saying is very different, I think. I have no recollection. I rewrote feverishly on the stairwell until I basically just winged it. The words that survived is a blur.

I really wanted to talk about Comet ISON, but the thing won’t make up its mind on whether it’s alive or dead. It’s hard to have a profound conclusion to a talk when your chosen thing to talk about isn’t being predictable. A few days ago, I was planning to take a pic with my cell phone, make it a slide, show off my knowledge of comets. But no, the thing won’t even die with obvious resolution. Also, I still don’t understand comets.

But here’s what I do get. Comets fly around, bump into stuff, and are wrapped up in the sun’s gravitational pull. They dance with the sun until they burn up and die. Also, that comets hold the keys to our beginnings, so some scientists really want to see ISON survive. They want to study it. They want to understand us, our universe through little undead ISON.

But ISON’s dance with our sun is, much like when we dance with a hottie, a fairly destructive path. Right now, Comet ISON has had her dance with her very hot suitor and seems a bit worse for wear from it. She may not even be alive. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. But that dust…that comet dust is us. And we are just like her. Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson say it scientifically: We are made of stars. Comets are kinda made of stars. I think. I don’t know. I don’t understand comets. But follow me, anyway.

So you and I share the same ingredients as that comet. I can make my own comet with stuff in my apartment and dry ice. And we are metophorically like that comet. We cannot avoid the lure of the sun. We must go toward it and push away, go toward it and push away. And it destroys us. We have so many revolutions around the sun and that’s it. We die. Just like ISON. And also, to stretch a metaphor, sometimes we are so obsessed with our dance with the sun, we are unsure when our time is done.

Us being connected like that. What does that mean?

We are one human race creating a small planet of personality and history. It seems so minute in the big picture. But our lives are integral in the evolution of our planet, which is part of the expanding universe. We are a grain of sand on a vast, endless beach. And yet, every grain affects everything else. We are not solitary, we are ripples. We are quakes. We are tides. We survive in this vast, wondrous pool of cosmic dust and fire and water and wind. We are on this only barely understood pale blue dot that the human race, sometimes in spite of itself, continues to ride.

Enjoy your survival, stardust. Enjoy the ride.

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