This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.
I’ve already complained about the nature of rapidfire blogathon writing today, so I won’t repeat myself. As with, well, every piece I’ve written so far today, I would prefer to write this with more time and consideration. But like many love letters, this stream of consciousness is being composed on an impulsive whim. (And, in defense of blogathons, I suppose this is one thing they’re good for — pushing the writer to express a set of ideas in a concise and timely manner.)
I don’t know where to begin thanking you, Dr. Carl Sagan. Your writing has been a source of great comfort at times when I most needed to be comforted. I found solace in Cosmos, such as when you wrote: “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” It reminded me of how important it is to remember that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity — including myself.
Your writing constantly reminds me of our interdependence, and of how important it is that all of us work together to improve our world — because none of us can do it alone. I was moved to tears the first time I read the Pale Blue Dot. I still am. I’m just going to leave this excerpt here without further comment, because it speaks for itself, and because I think that the world would be a better place if everyone remembered this message more often:
Alongside that — and so many other writings you published — is perhaps my favorite thing you ever said, which is now tattooed on my arm, interwoven among other tattoos that compose my full sleeve (including several satellite dishes). It is a phrase that you wrote in Contact: “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” This quote opens my own book, Faitheist, alongside a quote from Rumi: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Your work has helped me to uncover so many barriers of my own.
I will never have the opportunity to meet you, and for that I feel regret — for I would like to thank you for the ways in which your wisdom and your writing has expanded my horizons, set me ablaze with intellectual curiosity, and excited my passion for humanity’s potential. You cannot know how much you have given me, and how your work continues to enrich so many lives. But that regret quickly evaporates when I realize how fortunate I am to exist — and how wonderful it is that I was taught to read and raised to value education, so that I would eventually come across your writing and be further inspired in my quest for knowledge and for a more peaceful world.
I suppose the best ‘thank you’ I can offer is to try to live out some of your ideals as best I can, and to share your work with others. Your empathy and compassion, your wisdom and pragmatism, your skepticism and curiosity, your science advocacy, and your talents as a writer have inspired so many people to ask important questions, to treat others kindly, and to work for a better pale blue dot. Your legacy is great — and even though you are no longer living, it will continue to live on for years beyond my own short time here.
You wrote in Cosmos: “Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a hum-drum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” And yet, thanks to your work, our planet feels just a bit more significant than it did before I knew of you. You remind me to be mindful my own insignificance, and yet you also inspire me to try to do something of significance with the life that I have. For that — though I have never met you — this small creature loves you.
Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and the Values in Action Coordinator for the Humanist Community at Harvard. He is the author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, and the founder of the blog NonProphet Status.