Passions. We all have them, and dare I say it, we all need them. They’re what keep us going amongst the banality that can become of normal life.
I’ve had many passions over the years, some of which have occasionally seen the light of day in this blog, but I now have a new one – something I knew about when I was a child but have rediscovered over the past few months.
Not just the night sky or the stars it holds, but the physics of it all. How it all began, how it bolts together, how it works.
I think I’ve missed my calling.
When I was a youngster I spent many a night lying prostrate on a blanket in the backyard, gazing upwards at the myriad of twinkling lights. I’d wonder how many stars there were and try to count them, only to hopelessly lose count as I became sleepy in summer’s late evening warmth.
I’d wonder whether there were other beings out there watching us and whether they’d like to come visit, so I’d shine my torch into the sky in the hope aliens on distant planets could see the beam. And then I’d worry that I may have made contact and have to deal with one of them landing in my back yard, so I’d hurriedly pack up my things and run back into the comfort of the living room.
I wasn’t a very brave soldier back then.
I was into photography too; so many nights would find me on the roof with my SLR camera set to “Bulb” to take star-trail photographs. I remember marvelling at the images as they revealed themselves to me in my makeshift darkroom located in the family bathroom, but I also remember being disappointed each time I showed my parents the pictures; their reaction as they watched television, oblivious to the excitement I was feeling, always brought me back to earth with a thud. I guess they had other things on their minds.
My high school science teacher however would always offer words of encouragement, and I swear he was actually excited to see my latest photographs, perhaps sharing my passion for the stars.
I could often be found in the school library reading the latest on the Apollo moon missions in Newsweek magazine. The coverage they afforded was brilliant to say the least.
And I watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on television. Single-handedly he transported me into the realm of the universe, his passion for his subject and his unequalled passion for teaching gripping me, even as a young bloke…
The years have rolled by, and I’ve done many things in that time. I’ve been distracted by a career in telecommunications, I’ve been waylaid by dabbling in extra-curricular part-time teaching careers in aerobics, aviation and motorcycling.
And I’ve had a couple of marriages. Such a busy life…
But things change. Life evolves, and eventually slows to a pace where one can actually stop and smell the roses.
I’m retired from the full-time workforce, a choice dictated by the unhappy circumstance of my second divorce, but it has allowed me to discover a new part-time career as a teacher of skydiving. Each month I drive to a drop zone a thousand kilometres away to teach new students, and this gives me plenty of time alone to listen to stuff in my car.
And it’s not just music that keeps me company.
I’ve rediscovered the cosmos, and it’s all Brian Cox’s fault.
You see, he made a couple of television series emulating the Cosmos series from the eighties, and I happened to stumble upon an episode on TV. “The Wonders of the Solar System” and “The Wonders of the Universe” are, after Sagan’s magnificent effort, two of the best documentary series I’ve ever seen, capturing in effortless simplicity the events that brought us here.
It was no surprise, then, that after viewing these programmes I went in search of more information, searching the web for other stuff to satisfy the rekindled curiosity I’m now feeling.
We live in a great age.
I’ve watched videos of Professor Cox talking about how it all began, from the Big Bang to the present research being done, and have been amazed about how much we actually know about the universe and all it contains. It amazes me, but I think what amazes me even more is that I can actually understand a lot of the stuff he talks about. It somehow makes sense.
I’ve downloaded podcasts about astronomy, the cosmos and the science of the universe; audio programmes that feed my passion (some might call it obsession). Megabytes of data lie waiting on my car’s hard drive, ready to accompany me as I take to the road.
My iPhone too has been loaded up with as much science stuff as will fit so I can take these teachers with me anywhere I go. Brian Cox, Brian Greene and others, they’re all there, waiting to be heard.
I share my quiet time with these eminent masters of the universe, teachers who share both of my passions, those of teaching and the cosmos.
And I’m once again a child…