On January 31, 2018, something happened which hasn’t happened in about 150 years. This might seem strange, but hear me out.
I have officially been an inhabitant of planet Earth since August 13, 1997, which is roughly around 20 years of life on this planet that we all love so much. Yet not one day in these 20 years did I stop and stare at the moon the way I did that night.
Humanity has a knack for recording itself. Call it being self-centred or something else, but we do feel the need to leave trails behind us, so that no matter what the future holds, there will be some sign of what we did in the past – and how we did it. Our presence demands that it be felt because we hold it in the highest regard.
Looking back at our pasts – the lives we have lived – you and I would measure it in days, weeks, maybe a decade. But that night I realised that when you acknowledge something like a special, rare moon – a super blue blood moon – your understanding of time changes. The scale you judge your existence by shifts, and so does your perspective. Until now – as much as I didn’t want to believe it – I only thought of all of us going across space and time one day at a time. Slowly progressing into the future, so slowly that we couldn’t even feel ourselves move.
I saw this moon standing at the top of a rock in Lalbagh, Bengaluru, India. When the moon last appeared like this 150 years ago, our country didn’t exist yet. The industrial revolution had barely begun. Someone like me, neither royal nor British, would have had a very different life.
At the risk of sounding too poetic, I want you to imagine that our existence is marked by 150-year checkpoints that make us pause and take stock of where we were and how far we’ve come since the last check-in. When you notice the reference points the universe offers you, your feelings towards your own history change. It’s a sombre and slow happiness which is best experienced with the moon staring back at you.
This very aware effort that we make to satisfy our consciousness makes us so very different from other creatures on the planet, and so fundamentally human. While thinking about this fills me with existential dread, it also fills me with a weird amount of wonder. That night, at a quiet spot, atop a rock in a city still new to me, I waited for darkness with people I had never met before. The way we became a collective and gasped in unison made me feel very human. Not much makes us feel like that these days. It was exhilarating, to know that these people around me were in for the same ride as me, had landed here largely as a result of the same forces acting over the last 150 years.
It used to annoy me how people whipped out their phones to record anything special instead of living in that moment, and that same annoyance took over when I turned to see everyone else taking photos of the moon. However, the feeling disappeared soon enough, because really, no one else has taken such photographs before us. If someone calls you stupid for recording moments in your life, smile and remember that keeping records of significant moments actually benefits us.
We are, for the most part, responsible for developments in science and scientific thinking. We love experimentation and we also love reminders that we, ourselves, are the greatest experiment conducted. Humanity is a moon shot, and a remarkable one at that. Selfishly, I hope that our achievements can never be matched by any other form of life. Perhaps we are even on the path to becoming an interplanetary species.
In the next 150 years, such a moment will come again, except you and I won’t be here to receive it. The things we set off will hopefully remain.
Sometimes, you get the chance to sit and see what the universe presents to you. It has a lot to say, if you care to listen.
That particular night on 31 January, 2018, looking at the lunar eclipse, it was very easy to listen. From now on, it always will be.
Sujay Pan is a 20-year-old engineering student in Bengaluru, who writes and makes films. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @sujaypan