I always try to write a post on my birthday. It’s been ten years since I started. I’ve only missed two of those years, so this is the eighth one. With each passing year, I comprehend better how small I am. Just five days ago, we got to see the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope. I was astounded along with many others at the spectacular details revealed. Webb’s Deep Field, or SMACS 0723, in particular stood out to me, and it quickly became a meme across the web.
NASA’s site for the telescope described it this way: “Thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared – have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time. This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.”
I painted this piece meditatively. Whenever I paint a galaxy or starry sky, I try to capture as many details as possible. I know it won’t be perfect and my own interpretation won’t be an exact match, but I’m practicing for my own perspective. The thoughts that flow through my mind are of awe. With each color I mix, I remind myself that some stars are many times the size of our sun, many millions of years younger or older, shining in white, blue, and red. With each brush stroke that forms the arm of a galaxy, I breathe with awe that billions of stars make up each one. There is incredible hope in knowing there is so much space out there in the universe. There is also a humbling – I am reminded that I am on one small planet going around a single star.
Who am I to think that anything revolves around me, when I am one of eight billion people on this small planet? We crawl about like ants, hardly glancing at the sky because we’ve drowned out the stars with our artificial lighting. We are proud of our inventions and architecture, our exploration, and at last a telescope that can zoom in on a sand-grain size of dark sky and reveal billions of galaxies in the distance. The image is a square, so I zoomed in on part of it to fit a rectangular canvas board. I tried to think about how little I know as one person, and how little we know as a collective.
We might find signs of life among the stars in my lifetime. At the same time, I will live to see so much climate change on this little planet that we’re destroying with our greed. I remember when the rain was more frequent, the forest fires less threatening. I remember when the bees and bugs were so plentiful, we’d have to scrub hundreds of them from our windshields. Now it’s more common to wipe away dust. I don’t drive anymore, and I’m not sure if I ever will again, but I see that insects don’t die by the dozens on the freeways anymore.
I’m so full of wonder, so infinitesimal. I am glad to report that this is the most hopeful birthday post I’ve ever written. I usually feel melancholy on my birthday, but today I’ve been aiming to just rest and reflect. In a few days, I will have a small gathering with friends who are not pretending the pandemic is over. We are all vaccinated, masking regularly, and taking care not to have a huge party.
I am not here to live for other people to the exclusion of myself. I am learning to take care of myself, first and foremost. The depression isn’t gone, but I’m less depressed than I’ve ever been. I hardly believe it, but it seems to be true that I cannot heal others without first healing myself. I have a great deal to recover from, and I’m so young. I feel like a very small child, finally awakening to how incomprehensibly gigantic the universe is and how incredibly small I am.
I am recovering from thinking that I am some kind of hero and martyr. I know now that the purpose of life isn’t just to die for something. I don’t know if I can say exactly what the purpose of life is, but I know what it’s not. It’s okay to not know. I am still learning.
Thank you all for joining me on this journey.
Here is my version of Webb’s Deep Field: