On the Mystery of the Cosmos
Lily Yao ’23’s beautiful essay on her love for astronomy and the cosmos.
March 18, 2021
“The universe is in your bones, the stars are in your soul; it really never ends.” – David Jones
Have you ever raised your head and stared at the night sky carefully? When you were observing the universe, did you feel amazed by the shining and scintillating stars that hung on that huge black blanket, or feel afraid of the unknown and excessive darkness? From my perspective, the world up there seemed so far away; yet I felt so attracted by it, as if it was pulling me by its magical power. Like a moth flying toward the fire, I would still walk towards it, no matter if it was heaven or hell.
I remember that summer night when I stood on the little hill in the backyard of my home. As if entering another time and space, I cut off my perception of the real world. The dark sky and the faintly twinkling stars were like a fairy tale with their dreamlike beauty, relieving me from the irritability of the summer heat. In every direction there was a star. “So shall I fly into the universe?” I asked myself. I tilted my head, gazing upward, my eyes more open than they could be in the fullness of day, not looking at one star, yet somehow seeing them all at once.
When did this obsession start? Maybe it was when I finished reading a series of books called The Three-Body Problem. This series of books that I accidentally browsed during the summer vacation has thus become my favorite series. I was shocked at the writer’s terrifying but fascinating imagination, because he was once just an ordinary engineer. It opened a heavy door for me; leading me to a whole new world that I might never have imagined, a world outside the Earth which was already complex enough: wider than the solar system, a place we can never reach. So when I finished reading, I couldn’t help but think, “Why am I so small, and why are human beings so weak?” I couldn’t pay attention to anything for the whole day, because everything around me seemed so unreal.
So that night, when my whole family fell asleep under the hot summer wind, I quietly snuck out of the house and jumped over the fence. By myself, I wandered up the little hill in the backyard. The night scene I saw when I raised my head was the inception of my dream, that summer when I was 10.
In the next few months, I watched TV shows such as “How the Universe Works”, which made me even more curious in my desire to explore the vast cosmos. I even begged my parents to buy me a ticket for an exhibition about the universe. I was inspired by the colorfulness of stars, planets, and galaxies. “It turns out that the universe is more than endless darkness,” I gladly commented.
Soon, winter arrived: an icy serenade, a coolness to bring out the warmth within. My friends and I were on a winter camping trip. We climbed up the hills and built tents to spend our night in; the adults made a bonfire party for us to both keep us warm and enjoyed the freezing winter night. Among them, Lucy and I were chasing each other, laughing; we quickly jumped over the springs and arrived at a hidden, quiet place where nobody could disturb us. We lay down on the grass because of our exhaustion, and unanimously kept silent and watched the winter starry sky together. It was the most beautiful art, a sculpture of divine hands alive with raw energy, a song for the eyes. At times I felt as if I could feel it vibrating somehow, whispering in a way the ears couldn’t hear.
“I feel so cold.” It was Lucy who first opened her mouth and interrupted this silence.
“Is it because of the temperature?” I sat up. “Are you okay? Why don’t we go back…”
Lucy shook her head. “No, that’s not what I mean….Look at the sky….don’t you feel the unlimited darkness is horrifying?”
I looked up at the sky again, but somehow the beautiful and alluring sky I had just watched a while ago was blown away by the sudden chilling air. Lucy continued, “Every time I stare at the night sky, I feel a deep horror in the bottom of my heart. The universe is a trillion years old, yet I’m so small and weak. In a blink of an eye, not just me, the entire human race, the Earth, the solar system, and the Milky Way may be wiped out. There is nothing I can do; in fact, no one can do anything. This deep sense of powerlessness makes me feel frustrated, as if it takes away all my motivation to live….”
This excerpt from the poem from The Three-Body Problem suddenly flew into my mind: “If creation is the poem of the universe, I am but a speck of ink upon its page.”
Lucy’s words were a bucket of cold water that extinguished my enthusiasm. In my mind, the mysterious and beautiful universe changed into a monster that was reaching out to me. I felt terror and hated being deceived. What if the staircase that I desperately wanted to climb up would lead me to a door of hell? I kept questioning myself, where my desire came from and whether it was correct or not. One year later, I was still in a quandary.
Then my sister graduated from high school. “Time flies so fast!” my mom couldn’t help but exclaim. My whole family decided that they would go to send my sister to the university together. So we rented a car to drive to the university. Energy was flowing in the car. My dad, who was driving, was filled with excitement. Maybe it was because he still hadn’t stopped feeling the joy that my sister had gotten into such a good university. “Lily, you should study like your sister! And also get into a good university… Oh, I just remembered that your sister’s college has one of the best astronomy courses in the whole world! Aren’t you interested in space, too?…”
I shut my mouth because I couldn’t bear my dad’s nagging. But deep in my heart, it was calling for a place that I hadn’t visited for a long time. The decayed and silent wood seemed to be ablaze again. The car drove slowly into the campus. When the whole family was surprised by the beautiful scenery around the school, I saw the observatory near us. The blood that had been silent in my body seemed to boil again; my brain was shouting, “Hurry over! Hurry over!”
The car stopped at the building; my sister went to carry her luggage, and my father went to help her. In the meantime, my mother was standing next to me and watching. She noticed my impatience and anxiety, and immediately understood what I was thinking. “Go… and be brave, Lily!” she said.
So there I ran. I ran because I wanted to feel the air and the earth, to feel the temperature and absorb the hues of the evening light. My hope slowly accumulated with my every step. The observatory was still open, and this time my enthusiasm would not disappear again. I stepped into the door, and the scene in front of me astonished me, exactly like when I had finished reading The Three-Body Problem. There were many people here; I firmly believe that amongst these people were those who were just like me, curious about the universe. I turned around and saw all kinds of equipment, photographs of the universe being exhibited., and one of the biggest telescopes in the world!
Staring at this giant telescope in front of me, I shivered with excitement. It was the rocket ship for my creative dreams, and on it I would ride with the light-beams out into the cosmos.