Like many kids, when I was a boy I loved gazing up into the night skies to marvel at the vastness of space and the wave of insignificance that would invariably cover me like a blanket. The sensation was a mixture of emotions: fright, due to the infinity of the heavens; security, at the familiarity of the same stars and constellations night after night; wonder, at the creation of an endless space; safety, due to my obvious anonymity in the face of an expectant, demanding world. Yet I marveled, and still do, at the comfort that something so enormous could provide. I suspect that the immensity of it all provided some sort of convoluted confidence that being a mere speck in the universe was a safe thing to be. Much like sitting in back of the classroom or in the last row at church, not much could be expected of me; I could hardly be singled out for anything. Back then, I had yet to become infected with any desire to actually BE singled out as someone who had made a difference or created a legacy of some sort.
These days, I still enjoy searching the universe and its lights of invitation. The heavens are not diminished much by virtue of how much more we know of them today; they remain a majestic mystery for contemplation. But what has changed is the expectation part, the old feeling that among the billions of specks in the firmament, nothing is required or expected from me. Nowadays, in fact, the "starry, starry night" most often conveys a sense of responsibility, of obligation and opportunity, to somehow become some sort of light myself, to relieve the moon and its bright cousins of their never-ending charge. I am left to wonder about ways in which I can differentiate myself and my life as having distinct meaning.
I guess part of me has reluctantly grown up. But in my grown-up world, there’s another experience that makes me feel equally small, insignificant. It occurs when I travel elsewhere in the world, especially in places where there are high levels of need, poverty and near-hopelessness. And what makes me small is not billions of stars, but the host of humanity. Whenever I am among the people of Nicaragua, for instance, that same sense of being a speck among the infinite, of being an incidental particle of the whole, washes over me. And the same old sensations occur to me: fright, due to the daunting masses of people in need; security, at the recognition that my own circumstances are as if I lived on an entirely different planet; wonder, at the existence of such poor places on an abundant earth; and safety, due to my obvious anonymity in the face of an expectant, demanding world. At such moments my own insignificance looms over me like an enormous shadow. There are so many human beings, so much potential, so many lives of spirit and heroism, so many needs so much greater than mine, so many deserving souls.
At the same time, these moments curiously give rise to a sense that comes from some place deep in my consciousness, a revelation that somehow emerges from beneath that ominous shadow. It is a calm assurance, a recognition, that within the enormity of humanity I could be- and have been- singled out for a purpose. It’s not immodesty or a false confidence that drives such a feeling. To the contrary, it’s the very recognition of my own insignificance which creates a sort of safe-haven, a realization that in the immensity of the infinite, I do not need to accomplish infinitely-sized legacies. I just need to be a right influence within the small niches of my life that I occupy.
I do not demand traveling to the moon to know its luminescence. I do not have to calculate light-years of distance between stars to be astonished at the enormity of space. Nor do I need to resolve all of the matters of humanity in order to have made a difference in this world. I need only to recognize the absolutely shining stars who are in our lives every day and a desire to help them burn more brightly….