I’ve been thinking about us this week, what we’re learning about ourselves and where we go from here. Pluralizing Whitman – “Do we contradict ourselves? Very well then we contradict ourselves, (we are large, we contain multitudes.)” – I’ve grappled with the extraordinary capability we humans have for ignorance and wisdom, cruelty and grace. Those contradictions seem particularly keen in Americans.
The space probe Voyager I was launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, and crossed the heliopause, reaching interstellar space 35 years later, on August 25, 2012. It was the first spacecraft to do so. It’s still going. Fourteen billion miles from Earth, moving at a speed of 38,000 miles per hour, it relentlessly pursues its mission. Voyager is prepared to communicate, in the event it’s retrieved by intelligent life forms. It’s carrying a sound recording, a gold-plated audio/visual disc containing photos of life on Earth, scientific data, greetings in 55 languages, including a message from President Jimmy Carter. There’s also a collection of music, from Mozart to Chuck Berry, including “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” by 1920s bluesman Blind Willie Johnson. Johnson lost his sight at the age of seven when his stepmother threw lye in his eyes after his father beat her for cheating. Blind Willie died of pneumonia in 1945, penniless, sleeping bundled in wet newspapers in the ruins of his house that had burned to the ground. But eight years ago, his music left the solar system.
I don’t really know what that means for us, but I know we’re capable of doing something gigantic, even when we’ve been unforgivably bad to each other.