My favorite galaxy: NGC 4013
I. Why Outpost 4013
As you look at the galaxy above, let your eyes drift down the dark groove below the starburst, and notice the intense spots of blue-white light. This is a “stellar nursery,” literally where stars are born. All of the complex atoms that make life possible are formed inside stars. As the physicist Lawrence M. Krauss said,
“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand.”
For me, it’s an image of deep creativity, and divine feminine energy. (My friend Jeanie said, “It looks like a vagina.” Well, yes.) It’s inside us too, and to whatever extent I can, I hope to refract a glimmer of that ferociously generous energy. To be an outpost of 4013, however small.
II. The Dream, or How This Blog Was Almost Called, “SallyFieldIsGod.com”
I was in my thirties, going around to my housecleaning jobs on my bike. Life certainly hadn’t turned out as advertised, or fantasized, but it had its compensations. Listening to music, thinking about things. I had been wondering about how it all began. In one popular story, it seemed like God was a superb Swiss watchmaker, meticulously crafting and populating the world, then setting it in the shop window to admire while tucking into a plate of bundnerfleisch and a glass of kirsch.
But, I wondered, what if it was more like a birth than a project; what if it was passionate, bloody, dangerous, with a chance of disaster. However I might feel about my small life, I had the miracle of a consistent reality: I had thoughts that logically followed each other, an identity and a body and the beauty of nature around me. Not a paradise by any stretch, but I had a sense that it could have all gone terribly wrong; chaos could have reigned, and any shred of possible identity would be torn apart in that mad cosmic gale before it could find its feet.
This led to a period of about three days where I was filled with appreciation for our elegant and reliable reality. The green alphabet of plants, the wind pushing it into song. I was filled with gratitude and love for She who had managed to birth this coherent world. At the end of the third day, I had a dream:
I became aware I was dreaming, and decided to fly, because that’s what I like to do. It went unusually well: I found myself outside earth’s atmosphere, in space. As I was looking around, a voice told me that if I wanted, I could try to visit God. It said I probably couldn’t do it, but the conditions were just right, if I wanted to try. So I took off.
I flew through the galaxy, and beyond; a sense of immense distances. And every now and then, I’d hit some kind of shortcut, and cut across entire universes. This went on for a while, and then I seemed to be on a planet again.
An unusual one, though. There’s the loose beauty of nature, like trees in a forest, and then there’s the formal beauty of humans, like the columns of the Parthenon. This world seemed to be both, the natural and formal joined: as I flew past a giant stone mountain, the cracks in the cliff were just regular enough to seem like letters, if only I knew how to read them, yet they still that fresh, random quality.
Finally, I landed at the foot of a small dusty hill. There was a wall at the top. This was it–where God was. I climbed the hill.
The wall was circular, maybe seven feet high, something like adobe, with a wooden gate. I pushed it open and went inside. In the center was a fountain. I started walking around it.
A quick detour here. In 1985, Sally Field won the Oscar for Best Actress, and in a widely mocked acceptance speech, said, “You like me—right now, you like me!”
In the dream, I was about a quarter of the way around the fountain, when a female voice from the fountain said, “You love me—you really do love me!” I thought, “God, that’s so corny.” And of course I immediately felt terrible about thinking that. But I kept walking and sensed that She was amused. I was about halfway around the fountain when everything, myself included, started dissolving into a blissful white light. I was maybe three-quarters of the way around when the light was all there was.
III. Really, Now
One thing about my god, you have to admit She has a sense of humor. One thing that struck me: that god is pleased when we appreciate what she’s done (I can never make up my mind about deity capitalization). I sometimes think we live in a jazz, rather than classical, universe. Maybe the score isn’t written to the last note; we have our part to contribute, too. And what if god isn’t perfect; what if She (He, It) needs us to do our best as well?
Anyway, I don’t think I met the Total Essence, or however we might try to title it. For one thing, it’s a question of scale: how much can a cell in a hair on your arm appreciate Shakespeare? I took my cup to the ocean, and filled it up. There weren’t any whales swimming around in it, I checked. It was a personal journey, and I’m content with that.
I don’t plan to swing for the cosmic fences in this blog; I’ll just write pieces as they come to me, and who knows, maybe now and then a mysterious wind will lift one over the fence, and into the sky. Until then, I hope now and then you’ll look at your hands. And see different stars.
NGC 4013 is also known as the Diamond Ring Galaxy
I had some friends look at this About section before I published it. It’s funny and humbling, what you think, and what other people think. The image on the home page that Jeanie said looked like a vagina? Marta, a nurse, said it looked like a gashed shin to her. (Ouch.) Michelle liked the piece, but said that she gets a bit tired of feminine energy always being described as “giving.”
M, the image above is for you. That beautiful purplish ring of dust? It’s actually the remains of a dwarf galaxy that got in the way of 4013, and got ripped to shreds by tidal forces of her immense gravity.