A few weeks ago NASA's JPL Laboratory had its annual open house.
A self-contained city of several thousand researchers and auxilary personnel, everyone working on weirdness far beyond my feeble powers of comprehension. While we're schlepping our asses back and forth to the corner store for packs of whatever, just 12-miles from Echo Park, those folks are building robots to crawl across the face of Mars.
Robots, nantubes, satellites, rovers, spacecrafts, rockets, lasers...
...gamma rays, solar winds, meteoric dust, chemical gases, orbiters, telescopes, isotopes, etc...
I walked through the buildings and watched the films, smiling all the while. Truly, you've never seen such a clueless boob so utterly entranced. I stared blankly as robots meticulously moved across barren landscapes a billion miles away. I pondered ice crystals harvested from distant moons.
The day presented a whole other realm of possibilities, rewards and realities. Not merely in esoteric or conceptual ways, but in real and tangible ways. I came away feeling awed and refreshed. The notion that all those fabulous nerds spend their days on campus exploring the boundaries of places and things most of us can't even begin to understand, it just touched my heart in a really nice way. It gave me a newfound appreciation for their efforts and passions.
The facility moves to the pulse of its own mysterious mechanics, the thrum of its own internal concerns. Its own conundrums, its own failures. Its own solutions and jubilations. It is a place tasked with the job of forever looking outward, which is rather inspiring.
No tube amps. No dirty socks. No Echoplex. No Brite Spot brownies. No Arby's horsey sauce. No used car lots. No bungee jumping. No bad memories. false horizons. No sensitive gums or half-assed bridge work. No vegan cookies. No Apples-to-Apples. No neighborhood watch. No iPod nano. No Burberry. No bums. No bullshit DirecTV ads. No zines. No Medicare Debate. No Curves diet plans. No dance parties of the damned. No rye, no ham. No Coke in cans. None of that crap. Just stars and planets. Just darkness and light. Just solar flares and moons made of ice.
"Do you know why you can never step into the same river twice?" —Roxanne
"Yeah, 'cause it's always moving." —Willard
"All that matters is that you are alive. You are alive, Captain. That's the truth." —Roxanne, ANR
Late on a Saturday night there's really nothing like the incomprehensible vastness of all space and time to put things in perspective. That, and Joseph Conrad by way of Francis Ford Coppolla. Halfway to enlightenment, halfway to the horror.
The next time you gaze up at the moon, maybe give it a good look. The arc of its existence is so long. Trace its edges, consider its craters.
This 'being alive' thing we do, really it makes so little sense. Your life is the life of the universe, if only for a little while.
Thanks JPL, Tammy, Luis, Karina, Kevin, and Phil.