It was our first look at our planet from Space. 40 years ago Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, that morning Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders (who took the shot) became the first humans to achieve escape velocity from Earth and orbit the moon. On their way around our celestial buddy they saw it, Us, the pale blue dot, the third planet from the Sun, Earth. There it sat, alone in a sea of black, a fabulous blue and white illuminated rock hurling through endless space; with us crawling all over it.
In the photo, South America is in the middle, and South, is up, which shows how relevant everything truly is. I was six years old when the photo was taken, I probably thought it was just a pretty picture in a book or magazine. Later, I would be humbled by it when I first realized what it was. It made me feel small, alone, and strangely connected to each and every one on the planet. It's a small little piece of planetary wonder, in such vastness, and it's ours to share. From that distance China and the U.S. seem around the corner, and you can't see everyone's differences from space. Only light, dark, color, beauty, interstellar magic that brought us forth, yes, a miracle, a miracle of natural order, selection and evolution.
I think of this photo in today's world, in Today's America. I wish everyone in the world would look at it again, and feel the wonder.
Because if they did so much would fall in to place. Yes, even current events.
For a week, I've been interviewed about Rick Warren's appearance at the inauguration. I woke up and saw this photo and reminded myself he so doesn't matter. When you feel the vastness of reality coupled with the safety of human contact you realize, we must get along. We must. It's evolution Evolve or die.
Rick Warren's type are afraid they're dying out. They're afraid we're evolving past the ideology of hatred and bigotry, the ideology of do what we say, live like we say live, for a possible future reward, including turning against other humans, other residents of this pale blue dot, because they are not like them, because their mythologies don't match up.
When you see this photo from Apollo 8 that argument seems so stupid and ridiculous. When you stare at the ellipse that contains everything we think of as a world, does it really matter who is loving whom so long as they're loving?
When you see the planet without border lines drawn, without regions defined by politics and beliefs, it's so easy to see what happens to one happens to all. A change over there means a change over here. The Butterfly Effect in full force.
Looking at the photo makes preserving the inhabitability for the residents of the floating rock to live on it seem paramount, like nothing could be more important. Look at the photo, look around, there's no place for us to go yet. If we ruin this, it's done for us. It's so obvious. And there's not much space. Just look at the photo. 2/3 of that dot is water. That means that all the screw ups are coming from 1/3 of the planet, break that down, and actually from about 1/12th. That's a shame. Global warming? Look at the globe, the real one, us. It's not just a photograph, it's you, it's me. Forty years ago, some place in that photo, if you could zoom in on the other side, you would find me sleeping some place (probably in flammable pajamas with lead paint on my walls and sharp corners on my metal wagon...or my mom could have been driving me home, on her lap, smoking away in the car...but we survived...). If you were alive 40 years ago you are on that dot in that picture. Not another picture. Whether visible in it or not, you are part of that picture. If you weren't here then, you're still a part. Some place on that globe, on that dot, were your ancestors.
Remove the ambiguity. Remember it's you, it's us.
Homophobia will die. Racism will die. Classism will die. Bigotry will die. When? When we become Earthlings. I know that may appear odd, but it's true. Some place along the lines we stopped being human, we stopped being Earthlings, and we became Americans, Russians, Chinese, we became gay and straight, we became Christian and Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, we became subsets of subsets of subsets. We forgot the connection between each and every one of us.
It is December 24,2008 and this photo is the closest thing to religion I can feel. Historically we have celebrated this time of year. Saturnalia is probably the most borrowed from event, the celebration of the Sun, of Saturn, of the Winter Solstice; The shortest day of the year that gives birth to increasingly longer ones. The oldest celebrations celebrate the Earth, the Sun and our relation to it. We removed that connection. We became autonomous. We don't live on the Earth, we don't share the planet, we own it; at least that's what we feel. The perfectly horrid remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still has the best Keanu Reeves line ever delivered with his traditional stone face to Kathy Bates, Secretary of Defense.
Madame Secretary (to Klatu); Why have you come to our planet?
Madame Secretary: Earth, it's our planet, why did you come to it.
Katu: No it's not.
"No it's not..." Science fiction perhaps, but a grain of truth? If you believe in God it's not your planet, it's His or Her creation and thus a gift entrusted to the children. God would make you put your toys away now. If you believe in evolution you know it's not your planet, it's your home and that to destroy it is to destroy the present and future. Not the planet. As the photo shows us, it will remain in that orbit even if we blow half of it up.
The problem is we believe in so much this time of year that we can't see, we often overlook what is real.
That photo is real, the planet in it is real. The fact that we are Earthlings first and not anything else should unite us in one common cause, the preservation of our planet and every person and thing on it. Looking from that distance should reconfirm that in the long run, boundaries, differences, ideologies don't matter. There's so much more out there, and yet, so precious little in that few miles of protected atmosphere that envelope the blue planet and give us life.
I long for the day when we look at that photo and unite around it. I long for the day when we look at ourselves as Residents of the Planet Earth and not citizens of this or that nationality, fighting for sovereignty on a planet that knows no lines in space that knows nothing of our beliefs.
Man went out beyond Saturn recently. And while there we took another astounding photo: a solar eclipse viewed from the outer reaches of the solar system, beyond Saturn. In the rings, the Earth is nicely nestled.
Look at it, look at that photo, and then tell me who a resident of that land mass marries is important in the grand scheme of things. Look at both these photos and tell me the color of one's skin, hair, eyes, the accent with which they speak or the ideology they follow someone alienates them, makes them not worthy or able to live as everyone else on that small little Blue Dot.
Say it with me, Poppycock.
Wherever you are on the third rock from the sun this Winter Solstice season may you look up and out with the same wonder those looking in may be feeling, even if those looking in are us, from space, via photos or video. Realize these photos unite us in a way that no politician or preacher could divide us.
We are, in fact, all here together. If you look, there's no place for any of us to go. We either get along or fight it out and die.
Maybe it's time we stop looking in our churches, in our White House or on our TV for answers and start remembering what the photos clearly show: we've got one world. Make the best of it.