An Astounding Fact

Bijan Sanchez - Ecuador

January 22, 2013

(This post was originally a speech I made for my “Speak-up” presentation addressed to the entire Ecuador cohort during Training Seminar 2 in Esmeraldas. I left most of the speech as is for some soundness.)

This post has to do with the most profound thing I have ever heard that came up in a class during the last semester of my senior year. It is just one single fact that I felt really changed my philosophy on life. It did not come up from some English book, a history lesson, or even philosophy lecture, but from my Physics class. It’s something pretty technical that I took very emotionally and personally. That real fact is: there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on Earth; just take a moment, and try to wrap your head around that. I’m sure you’ve all been to the beach by now, and you may have looked out across the shore; try to conceive of all the tiny grains of sand just in Esmeraldas and then the whole world! It blows my mind.

For a little perspective let’s just take our observable universe; let’s say it’s the distance from here to the southernmost coast of South America. Within our observable universe we have over 100 billion galaxies. So we could just say our Milky Way galaxy would be my arm’s length. And within our galaxy we have about 400 billion solar systems. We can say ours can be the smallest amount of space you can possibly make between two of your fingers. And our little Earth? Relatively speaking, it’s practically as big as two of you fingers touching. From the scale I just created, which is actually quite under-proportioned, our share in the universe would literally amount to 0.

Still, I only accounted for the minuscule portion of the universe in range of our telescopes. The universe is expanding at an accelerating pace so fast that the light from most of the galaxies out there may never even reach us! Here’s a question no one on Earth has the answer to: how many universes are there? String theory suggest a vast multiverse of up to 10^500 universes obeying different physical laws with up to eleven dimensions of wonders beyond our wildest imaginations. Then we’ve got some quantum physicists saying for all the figures to work out there must be a span of parallel universes arising every moment with different copies of myself; there may be one where I take a bridge year in Brazil and meet the woman of my dreams, another where I drop out of high school flipping patties, etc. Some say the space-time continuum is infinitely sprinkled with pocket universes, and then there are even these mystics saying that there is no universe at all, that it’s all an illusion. The only really answer we can give to this question is somewhere between zero and infinity. Anyway, I digress, from what we can observe we can certainly be sure that the universe is bloody huge! No cierto? And at least for me I somewhat took this to heart.

So how does this relate to Global Citizen Year? Well this perspective of how impossibly huge the universe is, some take it to be kind of depressing and feel rather small and futile. For me I kind of use this outlook to help me get through the little things in life and in the end feel pretty big. Just knowing that the very atoms that made up you and me came from those stars we see at night makes me feel like I’m something greater, an indispensable cog in the workings of our entire universe. Rather than just accepting that we are in this universe, we can see that the universe is actually in us! There’s a certain level of connectivity. We are all linked in this big thing, and that’s all we want in life really, to feel associated, a partaker with some relevance in the goings-on of things around us.

I’m sure at some points during all our Global Citizen Year experiences we may have felt really blue and emotionally stressed out because, maybe, like Josh said at one point in his speech, we may have asked ourselves: “What the heck am I doing here?!” I sure have asked myself this very often, and, this may be unusual, but what I recall is that there are more stars up there than grains of sand on Earth. And this kind of gets me through it. When you take disappointments on a galactic scale the importance of your worries seems to just dissipate into something really not worth placing any importance on. I’m sure there are tons of little negative things we have all cared about a lot in these past few months, be it bad community placements, homesickness, your reputation or embarrassment. I believe no one should have any say on what we personally find important in life, but when you start dwelling too much on the negatives you could really just take a moment to put things in perspective. You can help yourself get through the struggles and live a fulfilling life where you have nothing holding you back from ceasing all the positive moments you can during this short time in Ecuador or even on this Earth before our history disappears. Just these short eighty years or so, if you live a life caring too much and doing too little you’ll eventually realize that all the time you invested in dealing with your little problems drew you away from the chances to experience some new and greater things.

Anyway, what we are, what we really are, we’re merely specks living on this beautiful little blue-green ball just a’floating around sun, and we ask ourselves: where do we fall into place? No one can surely answer that, but we can just look the universe in the face, stuff our problems in our pockets, and give it a big kiss. We only have three more months as Fellows. Regardless, I say let’s just go out and cease all the moments we can with nothing worth holding us back and savor these last few fleeting moments while we still can!

Bijan Sanchez