When you’re feeling down, look at the stars

When I was 16 or 17, I embarked one of the most memorable trips of my life as part of a Commonwealth leadership program called the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. It was a 4-day, 3-night canoe expedition in a place called Pitt Lake.

Our supervisor was quite impressed by our group’s strong paddling skills, and this, combined with fair weather, let us wander farther than our original route. We paddled all the way to the northernmost tip of the lake body where there was no sign of civilization at all. No more lakefront beach homes and pleasure boats—just forest, rock, and silence. The “campsite” we stayed at, Vickers Creek, had no amenities whatsoever. We dug our own toilets and boiled water from the creek. The atmosphere was made eerier by a plethora of abandoned rusted furniture and old bullet cases strewn across the shoreline.

But when the sun went down and darkness draped over the site, the sky was washed with the most beautiful display of stars I had ever seen.

If you’ve done true stargazing without any light pollution, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, stargazing in a completely dark place literally looks like this:

Exactly like spilt milk.

It was in this moment that a thought came to me, a thought that would resurface for the rest of my life: looking at the stars, I realized how damn small we really are. Just like how this cool series of graphics shows, we are nothing but blips on the universe’s timeline, and the universe is nothing but a blip on the timeline of the grand scheme of things. In fact, within the observable universe, we might as well be nothing.

Lying on that shore, 17 year-old me thought: why the hell am I so worried about everything?

You would think I’d be enlightened by that thought by now, but I no, worry still plagues me. Everything from what I should pack for lunch tomorrow to what I’m doing with my life. Of particular, something that worries me every day as a twenty-something young adult is whether I’m hitting my milestones on time. I worry a lot about being “normal” and being “behind” on accomplishing certain things in my life. Each year I push back the ages I believe I’m “supposed” to get married and have kids and afford a house.

But why cry over spilt milk?

Several weeks back, an old friend from high school and I reunited in the parking lot of our former high school. We sat and lay on our skateboards and watched the sky. There was plenty of light pollution so the night sky looked more like the bottom half of this picture:

Still, alone in that parking lot, far from any main roads with a majestic Pacific Northwest rainforest right beside us, we got very contemplative.

My friend remarked at how she felt done with the young person’s life. She wanted to finish her master’s degree, get a stable job, and settle down into a quieter life. I remarked at how I was intensely anxious about not having had a fulfilling youth. Unlike her, I didn’t move away for university, so I still feel like a child with years of exploration and adventure ahead of me. I don’t think about settling down. At all.

So I went down the spiral again of obsessing about being “late” to everything . Society tells you there is a “normal” timeline to getting stuff done—you get married at this age, have kids at this age—but so far, this timeline hasn’t been working that well for me.

Then I looked up at the sky, and I remembered that night several years ago at Vickers Creek. I was alone, in the real wild world, far from this oppressive society we have built to tell us to do stuff at certain times… And my friend said: “You shouldn’t care.” And I thought: yeah, why the fuck should I? Society’s timeline is nothing in the timeline of the universe. It’s a thing we’ve made up, not even as a human species, but (for me) as a specific cultural community in the western world of North America. Why should I conform to something completely made up? Fabricated?

You go at your own pace. You do things according to your own timeline. Because at the end of the day, you only get a small blip of time in the universe. Make that blip yours.

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