It’s reasonably conventional wisdom that there are more stars in our universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. When I say “reasonably conventional”, I mean I’ve heard it said more than once, therefore it must be true.
I guess I could fact check it. After all, I do have all of the world’s knowledge right here at my fingertips. The again, if I fact-checked all of my words of wisdom I’d never leave Google, and I’d be pretty rubbish in a conversation. Better to perpetuate the “wisdom” – true or not.
When I really think about this “fact”, it doesn’t even matter if it is true. For starters, I can’t imagine it would be possible to calculate (but I’m no astronomer). The real point is to get the listener thinking about the enormity of the universe. It’s a big place.
Perhaps that is understating it.
It is a really big place…
Perhaps the grains of sand analogy is simply a way of attempting to quantify something that is so far beyond the reach of human comprehension that it is impossible to imagine. It certainly stimulates my imagination, especially when I happen to be in a place where there are many grains of sand.
Hannah loves the beach. She adores it. If she had her choice, we would take the tent, pitch it on the sand and never leave. Well, perhaps we could leave every now and then to retrieve cheese, avocado and tomato sandwiches. But then we would head right back.
Luckily for Hannah it is the Australian summer. That means there is plenty of opportunity for long, lazy days full of sun and surf.
It was during one of these beach excursions that I decided to share my pearl of wisdom with my daughter. After all, it is my fatherly duty to look her solemnly in the eye and impart my wisdom in my best dad knows stuff voice.
It did cross my mind that a fact (…or theory…or bald-faced lie…) so huge that it blows my (somewhat) mature brain may fly completely over the head of a two year old, but as we sat together side-by-side, burying our legs and waiting for a larger-than-usual wave to roll in and wash it all away, I was overcome by the profoundness of the thought and had to share it.
It was all the bloody sand’s fault. The beach was full of the stuff. I struggled to fathom calculating the grains of sand on that particular beach, let alone all the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world. It all seemed… Infinite.
In that moment I felt very, very small. Incredibly insignificant, even. And yet, there next to me, blissfully digging in the sand was an even smaller being who believed that her mum and I were the whole world.
I felt a wonderful feeling that is hard to describe – a mixture of both freedom and responsibility, if those two diametrically opposed ideas are possible to be felt in one complex emotion.
Freedom because I am a mere blip in space and time. All of my importance and life stresses suddenly felt so artificial – a product of social systems and structures that are here today and gone tomorrow. Two hundred years from now what I have done on this planet will be entirely forgotten. And that’s just this planet. On the infinitely large scale of the universe I will not have mattered at all. Not one tiny bit.
How incredibly liberating is that!
Yet, at the same time I have responsibility. Here in this community, in this city, in this country on this planet I am the father of an incredible human being. In a few months time I will welcome another, and be the father of two tiny people. Here, I matter. What I do for my family, with my family, matters. The lazy hours spent sitting on the beach piling sand onto my legs with the help of my tiny daughter matter.
And so I turned to Hannah and imparted my words of wisdom. She stopped and sat. She blinked. Then she picked up her spade and got right back to the task of covering every centimetre of my legs with wet sand.
I knew my words at that point in time meant very little to my two year old. What counted were my actions. Being there, sitting and playing together. Loving this little life we have and this precious moment in time together. Nevertheless I was glad I had said them. She listens to everything and stores words away for when the time is right to use them. She has proven this to me time and time-again. Maybe one day the feeling of utter insignificance will comfort her as it does me. Maybe not.
I looked out to sea and soaked it all in. The gentle sound of the small waves, the families playing, the hot sun and the cool water. It was perfect.
Then another thought struck me.
Is it possible that on all of those planets surrounding all of those stars in the whole entire universe, that I was the biggest idiot at that particular moment in time?
As a rather large wave rolled in and soaked us, I had just remembered that the car key was still in my pocket.
Needles to say, Emma’s central locking no longer works.
Lucky for me, it will all be forgotten 200 years from now.