Stars

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”

~Carl Sagan, excerpts from A Pale Blue Dot

I don’t know what took me so long to write about this. Perhaps like everything else, I often find myself at a fear of not being able to describe a truly profound moment for all that it is worth. That is also probably why I sometimes prefer taking photographs instead – a moment frozen in time, unchangeable, unforgettable.

But I will try.

It was just before I left home, when I decided to take a spontaneous flight out to visit Eddy in Miri, Sarawak – to take a break from the noisy city, and to seek solace and healing in the quiet, sleepy town of good food and company. No deadlines, horrendous traffic, obligations and expectations. I only had one goal in mind – to just be – for all that I was; the empty, broken person in t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, and not the self-indulged corporate employee in ironed shirt and slacks paired with expensive black Nike trainers (yes, I was a ‘rebel’ like that).

We watched reruns of 500 Days of Summer and Sing Street (which was the most understated movie of 2016 in my opinion), explored all the similar-looking malls, ate tons of local food, drove around to see and ridicule the large mansions occupied by the tycoons and cronies of the state, went hunting for a bottle of Kahlua because I had an impulsive need to make tiramisu, and talked about life accompanied by rounds of whiskey sours and G&T’s masterfully home-mixed.

I loved all of those little things, but my favourite parts were when we drove to the local beach to catch possibly the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen, to witnessing moonsetting (I didn’t know it was a thing) and manoeuvring through the pitch-dark road to Tusan Cliff, armed with cameras and a telescope to capture the Milky Way.

Yes, the Milky Way. In our backyard.

Coming from the big city of bright lights, I was privileged to witness some of the best night lights each time I clock out of work, or even peering out from my room window. The majestic Twin Towers illuminates the Kuala Lumpur skyline with its sister KL Tower creating its own parade of twinkling stars projected from concrete, which was almost enough for us city-dwellers to forget about the ones in the sky, masked by the immense light pollution. It was pretty, nonetheless, just like how the skyline lights up at night here in London as well. The sound of traffic, clubs, Netflix and phones buzzing from endless text messages and notifications became the soundtrack of our busy, happening lives.

And then there was Tusan Cliff.

We got out of the car, and our vision adjusted to our pitch-black surroundings. Within seconds, a blanket of stars began to appear before our eyes, covering us from one horizon to the other, capturing our breaths and attention without effort. We scanned the skies like little kids in pure wonder, and there it was – the core of the Milky Way. Our cameras and telescopes were still in their respective cases in the car, but nature boasted itself in the best way she knows how – through our naked eyes.

Everything fell silent.

The sounds of the city faded away, and the voices of doubt and questions in my head went quiet.

‘Is this what meeting God feels like?’, I wondered.

Are these the stars He knows by name?

The Eye of the Milky Way, taken from Tusan Cliff on 8th of July 2016

A rushing wave of humility came over me, and I felt immensely minute. I thought of Carl Sagan’s quote above, and I could only imagine how much smaller those aboard the Voyager 1 must have felt when they were up there, viewing Earth as a pale blue dot suspended in a sunbeam. In comparison, I was a million times smaller than a dot. Not even a speck.

And my problems, my fears, and even my beliefs – everything that I have arrogantly held closely to me – are even more insignificant in the literal ‘grand scheme of things’. Who am I, and what is my worth on this tiny planet, an intricate and detailed work of art and intention?

Once we had satiated our photography appetite with endless long exposure shots, various focal lengths and awkward positions (thank goodness it was so dark we could not see how silly we were), and caught sight of Saturn and Mars via the telescope, we walked towards the cliff and lied on the benches to soak it all in.

Just when we thought we could not be more in awe, we saw not one, but two shooting stars pass us by. I did not even make a wish on the first star because I was too excited in seeing one for the first time. When the second one came along, I only hoped for one thing: peace. Like that very moment, where everything felt comfortably present and whole as we were cradled and held by the very one thing we try to go against everyday – gravity.

That moment of peace was then disrupted the minute we noticed something else fly by much faster than a plane.

“Could it be…?” Eddy immediately sat up and grabbed his binoculars. It was a satellite-looking object, or more accurately, it was the International Space Station (ISS) flying across the horizon (we Googled its orbiting schedule later on when we went home). According to him, they orbit from one end of the horizon to the other in a span of three to four minutes – and that was it, 240 seconds of jaw-dropping excitement. I was beginning to think that this must be a dream.

Except it wasn’t.

Some things just happen once in our lives to nudge us, shake us, change us.

I knew at that moment, something has changed within me. But like the unexplainable sixth sense of things, I couldn’t define what it was.

“It’ll all be okay, right?” I asked, in a rare moment of vulnerability, thinking about boarding that flight few months down the road to a place 6,000+ miles away with new battles to fight.  Many knew that I was excited, and were equally as excited for me – but only a handful would know that I was actually quite scared.

“Just open your heart and go for an adventure,” my best friend replied. He’s not very good with touchy punchlines and advise, but he always knows exactly what to say to me when I needed it the most.

And little did I know, this less-than-a-speck was bound for a life-changing one.

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