Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Remembering a Landmark - Carl Sagan

We humans are ones for anniversaries. We have anniversaries for the day of our birthday, happily (usually) called "birthdays"; first kisses, first dates, wedding days, but What do we do with the dates of deaths? Deathdays is a bit on the morbid side. In the Orthodox faith we have a tradition for this. It is simply called a remembrance, or memorial. So today, we have a memorial of Carl Sagan, gone for ten years now.

In Leslie County, Kentucky where I grew up, there was nothing of advancement in science. My Dad was a coal miner and my Mom was a housewife. My sisters, by the time I could fully remember, had pretty much all married and had lives of their own. This left my Mom and Dad to deal with a very sick child. Me.

The community we lived in was small. Close knit. Paranoid of strangers. It still is one of those rural places where you can still end up being an "outsider" even after living there for twenty years. (Trust me, an "outsider" is better than being labeled a "Northerner" there to this very day.) There was a big danger of growing up to believe there was no other place in the world. Yes, we had television, but we didn't have cable. Whatever was floating about on the air was what we received. There was contact to other worlds, other cultures with the television, but I can still remember hearing my grandmother and older people stating, quite solemnly, "I sure wouldn't want to live there" when seeing New York City or some other place. Those were "heathen" places.

I was pretty much growing up to believe much like this, until I asked my Daddy one night while looking up at the stars, "What's out there, Daddy?" I guess I was about four at the time.

"I don't know, buddy," he said, "but I'm sure there is something." We fell silent and just looked at the night sky, and I wanted to know what was out there, what made up the world itself, and questioned if life could exist on other worlds and, if so, would it be like ours? Like mine?

Time passed with me being in and out of hospitals and fighting this illness. I read voraciously and when I couldn't hold the books in my hands I listened to them on cassettes and even some were on LPs! Each and every time something about space came on PBS I watched it if at all possible. Carl Sagan always made the most sense to me, during these years and times of exploration and growing up, getting better, getting sick.

There were some people who were concerned in the community because, according to them, I was in danger of forgetting about God because I was so into science of many forms from astronomy, astrology, anthropology, archeology, and paleontology. Yet, the more I discovered the more my young mind was convinced there had to be something, someone directing all of this because "happy accidents" on such a scale had to be orchestrated and governed by, for me, God. Even though Carl Sagan never said there was no God, he never said there was one either, so I felt safe in my belief. What was more, I could understand what he spoke about and it related to my life and being. It was magnificent! He was magnificent!

Carl Sagan has left us. But he has left behind a body of work that is truly expansive in the questions it answers as well as the questions it encourages. Throughout my life, when it came to science, Carl Sagan was my landmark, one of the bigger guides to helping me explore a world far larger than the little place I came from.

For more information on Carl sagan visit these check out the blog-a-thon for Carl Sagan, Carl, and his son, Nick Sagan a wonderful SF writer.

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