The Importance of Tethers
Black holes fascinate me.
When I was younger, just the thought of a hole in space, a place so deep that everything–even light–fell in, mesmerized me. How could there be a hole in space? Where is all that stuff going? Where is it falling to?
My parents subscribed to ‘National Geographic’ (or, at least, I remember there being a lot of those yellow-bound magazines lying around). They mesmerized me, too, with their vibrant photographs of far off places and strange animals and unique cultures. Then I got my hands on an edition with a picture of a black hole on the front cover. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d stare at the image, wondering how it all worked, what was on the other side. Perhaps another dimension–just like in Twilight Zone–where, if I fell in, I’d find a duplicate of myself, except living a different kind of life. Maybe a poorer life; maybe a richer life; maybe a life without sisters; maybe a life where my sisters were really brothers…
Then I watched Channel 24.
I don’t know what the network was actually called (I was too young to care about networks). All I know is that Channel 24 was the channel that had all the neat-o nature shows. And, one day, they had a special on black holes.
And it terrified me.
The creators of the special had designed a computerized graphic of a black hole spinning in space, surrounded by a swirl of meteors and planets and streams of yellow and white and purple light being sucked in. Then they introduced a valiant astronaut to the picture. What an adventurous soul! He was in his astronaut apparel–his poofy white body suit and big, globular helmet with its mirrored face shield–and he was tethered securely to his astronaut ship somewhere out in space.
Oh, brave astronuat! There you are, floating about in space, out there in the far reaches of the galaxy to uncover the great mystery!
But then the narrator started talking about relativity.
This was news to me, Einstein’s Relativity and something called Time Dilation. Now, I’m no scientist, but the concept goes something like: as you approach the speed of light, time will slow down and eventually STOP.
That’s right. Time would stop. At least that’s what Channel 24–the Ultimate Authority on All Things Natural and Mysterious–had me believing.
But–hey! There he still goes!
Tethered to his space craft and being drawn in by the gravity of the hole in the background. And–lo, and behold!–he’s wearing a wristwatch. How convenient! So I watch, stupefied, as the adventurer is drawn in and moves faster and faster and faster… and the camera zooms in as the second hand on his watch ticks slower and slower… and STOPS.
As a child, what was I to think? This poor astronaut, brave as he was, is now destined to suffer eternity stuck in time, swirling about a giant mass of blackness, plummeting toward its inky center in the depths of cold, cold space. All alone. Without even a teddy bear to cuddle and comfort him.
As he drifted closer and closer to the source of his entrapment I screamed (albeit, in my head) at him to grab hold of his tether! Pull yourself back! Don’t go there–it’s just NOT worth it!
But he was too far gone. Lost to the Black Hole of his beloved Space.
There were so many questions left unanswered then and left unanswered still. But it has taken me until now to realize that…
People get sucked into their own black holes, within our own breadth of space.
That’s right: no need to go astronaut-ing about with wristwatches firmly in place to put the complexities of science to practical use!
Your space is your life, your busy everything that swirls around you in all its color and activity and glory and madness. It is work and chores and sleeping and eating and doing laundry and getting dishes and taking the dog to the vet and taking the kid to the doctor and planning outings and watching your favorite television shows and visiting all the places in the world you wish to go see and making all the money you wish to make…
Truly, a whirl of complexity.
You are your own astronaut, pulled along by the swirling space, nothing to stop you, nothing in your way. You have nothing to cling to except that small tether which leads back to your spacecraft which will, in turn, bring you safely back to everything and everyone you love and know, back to the place that made you the astronaut you are today, the astronaut brave enough to adventure into the vastness of space unknown.
But, without meaning to and without trying, you could get sucked in.
You might begin to accelerate, fascinated by your Space. Everything happens so fast. You get distracted. But, then, just before it’s too late, you might come to realize…
Time is not the solid companion you thought he was.
He has tired of this game, of this swirling, and has departed. But he gave you a chance. Many chances, in fact. All those seconds had passed by you unnoticed. They’d ticked away soundlessly, during which you could have grabbed hold of your tether and pulled yourself back home. Time–gracious as he is–even slowed a little to give you a moment to really make up your mind, to really consider what drifting toward that mysteriousness meant.
Then you lose Time, like a good and true friend who cannot follow you, to those things you left behind. Some things are distant–your hometown long forgotten or old friends not called–and some are near–children not kissed and blessings not counted–and still some are potential–a family not had; cards not sent; prayers not prayed.
We all have black holes that fascinate us. Points of interest that suck us in, distract us from everything else as we pursue those unanswered questions.
For some, their occupation provides questions and challenges from which they cannot turn away. For others, sports or other physical activities are constantly on the mind, and like a drug the adrenaline calls their name. Then there are those whose black holes are drugs–alcohol not consumed in moderation, meth, cocaine…
These things can take us away from our lives. While questions oft require answering and make us better people for it, we must not disregard that we are people. We breathe and love and cry and laugh and have histories that have made us who we are.
Adventure is good for the soul. Nay, necessary. Go out there and explore. Test your limits. Answer questions. Drift out just far enough into space to get a good look, but remember to pull yourself back when things start moving too fast, when you feel like you’re losing Time to the place where you came from.
But we must not get so drawn into the black hole that we forget where we have come from.
The key is in remembering the tether.
Here’s to the next adventure…