Today marks the end of a decade. I suppose that all days do, in some sense, and that all years do, too… but, today, this year and this decade feel a bit more important.
December 31, 2009. I don’t remember exactly what I did to mark the day. It was in between my two semesters of training at a rural facility in North Carolina. It was pre mono and my subsequent stint with chronic illness. It was a time when I thought I knew what I was doing with my life. It was before my first serious jobs, before I really became an adult with adult commitments. It was before I lost and found myself again. It was both before and in the midst of the first serious relationships and friendships of my life, before I fell in love. It was before my parents separated. It was before a lot of things, now that I take the time to list them all.
“Go confidently only the direction of your dreams,” all the graduation cards read. I followed the advice. I went to college. I worked hard. But ultimately, I sort of… failed at life.
That’s not to say that it was all bad, or that I made all the wrong decisions. But the dreams I followed weren’t exactly, 100% authentically all mine. Oh, they were my dreams; no one forced me to live in a cabin with no electricity for a year, or forced me into two semesters on campus at a bible college. But… no one taught me how to think, either.
Have you ever seen one of those videos of an unsuspecting person driving down a suburban street when suddenly their SUV falls into a sinkhole that appeared out of nowhere? That’s how I felt in 2010 when I got sick and couldn’t attend school. And in 2013 when I walked away from the religious community in which I was raised. And this morning, when I realized that by the time I graduate with a PhD in
the subject of dreams literally anything, it will likely be 2030. Another decade will have gone by. I am behind.
But am I, really? How many people go their entire lives, chasing dreams, only to look back and realize what I realized when I was 22: that I was going confidently in the direction of a dream, alright, but that dream wasn’t mine; and it was the wrong dream altogether.
In 2019, I started over… with new dreams. It might actually be a little premature to even call them “dreams,” yet. And my pursuit and restart of collegiate distinction has been anything but confident. It’s been downright tentative. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes I made in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Or at least not as badly.
The truth is, even with my ten extra years of experience, I’m still not wise. I’m still not going to do life “perfectly.” But being “behind” has advantages. I can understand my professors’ jokes. I have valuable context and life experience which help me integrate knowledge. All those years that I wasn’t in school, I was still learning. Still growing.
I took this photo this morning. Chris bought me this bracelet with stones symbolizing the planets during the fall semester when I enthusiastically and single-mindedly studied astronomy. The white stone down toward the outside curve of my wrist stands for Mercury. The amber stone next up my wrist symbolizes Venus. And the dark blue stone in the middle of my wrist represents Earth, with a clear moonstone next to it before red Mars and giant Jupiter.
That dark blue stone always fascinates me, every time it catches my eye, especially when the light catches it. It reminds me of the immortal words of Carl Sagan, words on which I based the name of this website, “speck on a speck.”
I am indeed a speck on a speck. I live on a small planet, orbiting a less-than-remarkable star, in a simple solar system, in an unexplored galaxy, in a vast universe. “I” am insignificant.
Being insignificant isn’t depressing. It’s just a scientific fact. Of course, the construct and the cells that make up “me” are significant to people whom I love and who love me. “I” matter to “myself,” too. But what even is the self?
I’m starting the new decade with more answers than questions. And even if and when I do earn that PhD, I doubt I’ll have even half of them answered. But, in a weird way, not knowing all the answers only makes me more curious to explore. Not because there’s a perfect way that I have to order and live my life… but because there isn’t this magic blueprint by which I should live it. Because I am free to explore. Life is a giant playground, a sandbox in which to dig, to play, to bury, and to discover. There’s no absolute conclusion to draw or from it, and maybe even no cosmic “purpose.” But to NOT enjoy it… to not explore it… that would be a tragedy… and a sin.
Love to you all,