I was standing in the middle of Tesco today, choosing between two identical looking bunches of spinach when something very strange came over me. It was all rather dramatic. Time seemed to slow, and the lights even dimmed, [but that was later proved to be a behemoth of a man passing by.] Bohemian Rhapsody began to play on my iPod, yet that seemed both highly irrelevant and utterly perfect at the same time. I stared intensely at the shelf before me, at all the glass bottles and plastic packaging and colours and I felt this twinge in my gut. Admiration, I think. But that was in retrospect. At the time, I felt very small.
This seemingly insignificant part of my day was something that one could only experience on this planet. Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot came to mind; a photograph of the Earth taken by the Voyager 1 space probe from 4 billion miles away. And Earth is nothing more than a tiny pale blue mote of dust, barely the size of a single pixel, suspended in a rainbow of light generated by a lens flare. Every single thing we’ve ever known, every human being, famous or infamous, saint or evil, dying or dead, just born, or destined for another time… Something as undemanding as a glass jar, crafted by a man in a foreign country, filled with a concoction in a factory somewhere, placed on the supermarket shelf by a bored, unsuspecting employee. That was something exclusive to Earth, or so we think. It’s all we’ve known.
As of yet, we haven’t found life anywhere else, and even if we do, what are the chances that we will discover a species as complex as our own? And this isn’t just some weird, selfish geocentricism talking. What are the chances that somewhere else a place as infinite as our universe, a girl is standing in a similar aisle, mouth agape in a sudden epiphany, staring at bright crimson jars of pasta sauce? It could be completely impossible, OR… It could be dizzyingly common.
At times like this, I think of Arthur C. Clarke. “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Very few things resonate with me as strongly as this did. The implications either way are too vast for me to comprehend. If we are not alone, then there is something extremely fantastical out there, yet to be discovered. Something that will change the history books forever. And if we are indeed alone, then how staggering? That in this vast, endless expanse of darkness, we are some kind of cosmic anomaly that defied all odds… And, even more terrifying, if we are indeed alone, then what happens once we are gone?
Humanity is becoming more and more obsessed with vanity. We are constantly seeking things that will make us look younger, feel better, live longer… and yet, this obsession with living forever is something most of us nurse individually, and not as a whole. Impending doom isn’t exactly at the forefront of our collective minds. In fact, all it would take is for the right sized comet to come along and we would suffer a fate similar to the dinosaurs. Gone in seconds.
Anyway. Where else in the universe would one come across a jar of pasta sauce?