I’ve never been a scientific person. For as long as I can remember, I would spend every science or math lesson wanting desperately to slink away to another reality and stick my head in a book. The only exceptions were those rare but precious lessons about OUTER SPACE. I couldn’t get enough of space! We never went far enough into the universe or explored as deeply as I longed to. It was like one lesson about the solar system, a few words on the Big Bang, and that was it until next year. Goodbye, only science lesson that ever held my attention. (Sorry, Mr. Perks.)
But then, one day, a hero came along. I discovered Carl Sagan and his TV show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage one cold, lonely winter several years ago, and spent many Saturdays snuggled up on the couch, traveling with Carl to the far reaches of the universe. I suddenly, through little to no effort of my own, was overflowing with knowledge, spilling it out of my mouth in front of my parents, trying in vain to understand the cosmos by talking about it out loud. When I listened to Carl’s comforting voice and watched his calm and friendly face, I would learn a hundred times more than any science lesson. Carl was my favorite teacher. (Sorry again, Mr. Perks.)
In the introduction to the 13-part series, which originally aired in the States in 1980, Sagan explains that in order to explore the cosmos, we have to use our imaginations. Maybe that is why Cosmos enraptures me so much? Yes, Carl uses the series to explain complex scientific theories that mostly go over my head, but that is not all there is. He doesn’t alienate people like me, who can be reduced to tears by a math equation. Instead I have had tears in my eyes for the split seconds when I can comprehend existence in this crazy world. Carl explains it all so well that even I can actually begin understand it.
There are countless mind-blowing moments on this show—I couldn’t even begin to cover them all. So many times my mouth has been agape, I’ve gasped with wonder, and I’ve laughed aloud at Carl’s fashion choices (turtleneck in the desert was my fave—also once he had this little special pouch around his waist to hold his glasses). I’ve also laughed with delight over how excited and enthusiastic he can sometimes get about the planets. He LOVED THEM, and his feelings on the subject are often contagious. Simply put, he had a gift. Not just for learning his knowledge, but for sharing it too.
Carl is also insanely quotable. My favorite thing he’s said was about books: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” That might be when I fell in love with him.
Carl is like a friend now. He was only 62 when he died. I wish he were still alive to explain more-recent discoveries, to know all the things we know now. The brutal thing about science is it’s changing all the time, at break-neck speed. I wish Carl knew that he has made me, an avowedly un-science-y person, enchanted with certain aspects of science. If we were to ever come in contact with an alien species, he would be the first human being I would have liked them to meet. His list of personal attributes is miles long—Tavi sent me this, Carl telling the Explorer’s Club to take on female members, like a boss. He also has a devout cult following of stoners, being an advocate of marijuana himself, who if you look long enough tend to make incredibly amusing comments on any Carl Sagan YouTube video. Also, if you want to hear the most romantic science story ever, go listen to Carl’s wife, Ann Druyan, talking about how they fell in love.
On my worst days I have often resorted to Cosmos, because it puts things into vivid perspective. It never fails to make me feel intensely better and my heart flutter. I often think that it should be compulsive viewing for the whole human race. Carl Sagan was very adamant that we should look after the earth and be very grateful for our existence on such a habitable planet. He also showed me how important space exploration is. I am convinced we should have a permanent base on the moon by now—get on it, NASA. Cosmos and Carl has always reminded me that frustrating things like money, wealth, fame, grades, current beauty standards etc. are completely irrelevant. How could you think of wars and profits and power when the rest of the universe is so mind-bogglingly beautiful? When our existence is actually ridiculously small? We’re just a pale blue dot.