A Mother's Day Tribute to Mother Earth
+ Von Del Chamberlain +
It has been argued by mythologists and historians of religion that the first great deity to be revered by ancient peoples was likely equated with the planet beneath our feet. To the Greeks she was Gaea, without parents, forming directly out of Chaos. Although given various names by different people, she is the Mother-Goddess, a common denominator in traditions throughout time and around the world. Many Native Americans simply refer to her as Mother Earth.
For every one of us, our mother is, without doubt, the person we most identify with out mortal existence. Our fathers are essential too, but it was our mothers who issued us into the world, nourished and sustained us onto our individual pathways of life.
Inside our human mothers, each of us came into form, cell by cell, organ by organ, organized into breathing, thinking individuals capable of functioning by ourselves. Similarly, the atoms and molecules that make up our individual DNA and the material that flows through us as air, water and food, to keep us alive is the substance of Mother Earth. Furthermore, Earth holds securely around us the blanket of gases that we inhale, the blue blanket that scatters and screens out most harmful radiation coming in, yet soaks up enough solar energy and holds it to keep us warm through nights and winters as well as days and summers.
So here is a perspective of one astronomer on this topic. For more than four decades I have studied the great cosmos consisting of atoms, planets, stars and galaxies. I can easily write or speak about a universe stretching tens of billions of light years and containing tens of trillions of stars. Even though such numbers are quite familiar to us now, none of us really appreciate what they mean. How can we comfortably visualize ourselves in such immensity?
Occasionally I am asked, "from all your study of astronomy, what one thing do you mostwant to share with others?" When first I encountered this question, I did not have a ready reply, but after contemplating it over many years I do not hesitate. "I most want people to appreciate the beauty, the wonder and the delicate nature of planet Earth." Then I go on to explain what I mean by this, and I always feel that the interpretation is inadequate and incomplete. So here I go again, trying to express something that is so profoundly important to me that I know in advance I can not do it justice, but I must try.
As children we are introduced to Earth as a gigantic body orbiting a star we call Sun. We learn that it is one of a fleet of planets, satellites of planets, asteroids, comets and meteoroids falling around the Sun and moving with the Sun as part of the Milky Way Galaxy containing a few hundred billion stars. If we stop to figure out how big a billion is (I leave this to the reader) we are impressed with the fact that the Sun is lost amid the myriad of other stars in this one galaxy. As we keep learning we find that our Galaxy is also lost within the field of galaxies in our part of the universe. Then we begin to understand that the observable universe contains perhaps 100 billion galaxies, each with individual stars, clusters of stars, and nebulous clouds where stars continue to form, not to mention such exotic entities as black holes.
From all that we have learned we realize that there are many places where planets could orbit stars that could harbor life. Consider, however, how tiny are the regions at the surfaces of the planets where life could exist. Here on Earth--and it would be the same on any other habitable planet--there is a narrow band within the soil, bodies of water and atmosphere where life abounds. Here in the Solar System the volume of space containing life is minuscule. Now, think of the huge volume of the known universe and realize the minute part of this that might have the conditions necessary for life as we know it. In this mode of thought, we comprehend that the breath of life is drawn from a vanishingly small portion of physical reality. Earth is the only place where we are sure life is found, and it is so very, very small. It is astonishing that we are here at all!
Earth, then, is the most precious jewel of the entire universe to human kind. No other object, except perhaps the Sun, our star, has greater significance to the individual miracles of our independent lives. Adding in the ways we each are intertwined with Earth's ecosystem, with otherliving creatures, and especially with our human progenitors, we are humbled, amazed and inspired by the circumstances that brought us into being.
We should honor, love and express deepest appreciation for our mortal Mothers on this special day. Thinking of our connections to the universe, perhaps we should, at the same time, sense affection and gratitude for the planet we are part of. We are of Mother Earth's family as well as members of the human race and of the particular families we trace our lineage through. Looking around at the great and beautiful planet that we can appropriately call Mother Earth, a body that is actually a microscopic gem on the cosmic scale, we envision ourselves suspended in a miraculous moment crystallized out of time and all the forces of the universe. If we truly love our mothers those giving birth to our bodies and the planet providing days, years and environmental comforts, we will honor them by the details of our lives: both by the things we do and the things we do not do.