Did you see the news out of NASA and Ohio State? You can be forgiven for having missed the
headline, it was a hectic news week. But get this: a NASA satellite and telescopes at Ohio
State worked together to capture footage of a black hole ripping a star apart. Yeah.

The star in question was roughly the same size as our own sun. The black hole, on
the other hand, is about 6 million times more massive than the sun. The star got close
enough to get caught in the hole’s gravity – but not so close to simply get sucked up. The
extreme gravity tore it apart and the spinning pulled the gas into a bright, glowing halo around it.
One moment there was a shining, glimmering star out there in the heavens, the next moment a
beautiful glow … then nothingness.

Now, before the nightmares start, let me assure you, this black hole is not our neighbor. In fact,
this event took place way out in the Volans constellation, about 375 million light-years away.

Myself, I find comfort in the event itself. It is amazing and wonderful and oddly deeply, deeply
reassuring to be reminded that the universe is so, so much larger than what we have going on
down here on Earth. The universe cares not for what the hottest color trend of the season is, or
which Hollywood couple is splitting apart to form a new constellation, or even what our
politicians are up to. It just is. I grant that we might well put an end to the ecosystem as we know
it on this planet, but the universe will rebalance and adjust. Nothing personal, just science.

Douglas Adams is one of my all-time favorite authors. In his justly famous five book series (See?
Right there. That kind of weirdness is why we love him) known as The Hitchhiker’s Guide,
one of the main characters is put into a sort of torture chamber to do away with him. The
premise is that he will be shown the entirety of the universe and his relative insignificance within
it, thus causing complete and total annihilation. In the book (I don’t want to give too much away,
you should read it) he survives because benevolent forces have tampered with the mechanisms
and he sees himself as profoundly significant. I always thought the opposite was true. It’s such a
relief to know that, in the grand scheme, I don’t matter all that much.

Today’s foibles, yesterday’s mistakes, and yes, also my successes – everything pales in the
glow of a star being shredded by a black hole light-years away.

This does not, obviously, absolve me. Yesterday’s mistakes still require fixing. Today’s foibles
will still require an apology and setting things to rights. Things I get right will continue to warrant a
little dance, and maybe some cake. Climate change is still a thing, and so are the many and
various other forms of suffering on the planet, and I am still called upon to do my part in making
things right. But when it all feels just a touch too much, a bit overwhelming, I can stand outside
on a clear Maine night and gaze out through our own lovely spinning Milky Way and realize
there are larger forces at work.

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