You and I are stardust. We are insignificant entities on an out-of-the-way planet in a nondescript galaxy that will eventually succumb to heat-death. At least, this interpretation of the universe and our place in it is what science documentaries on television preach. For some reason, it has become all-important that we acknowledge how unimportant we are, that our bodies are random accumulations of atoms doomed to disappear. The universe, we are assured, takes no notice of us.
The vastness of the universe is indeed intimidating. Clearly, you and I are a very, very small part of it. Our bodies are frail, don’t last all that long, and don’t take up much space. The planet earth is a speck of dust in relation to the cosmos. Looking up at the night sky, seeing the stars of the milky way spilled out across it, and considering how enormous it is can be a disorienting experience.
There are days I cannot help but feel I’ve wasted. I get up, make coffee, read for a bit, go to work, come home, take a walk with my children, watch some television. It’s a pleasant life, but most days nothing of any great significance happens. History books won’t mention how I defeated my daughter in Uno back in 2018 or how delicious my birthday cake was when I turned 38. Most of us are known by a small circle of people. We create no great, lasting cultural memory of ourselves outside of our circle of loved ones. We live our lives which, to be sure, are happy and comfortable and well worth the living, but which can also feel quite insignificant.
Coping with this sense of insignificance can be a challenge. I’ll let you in on a secret vice of mine. When I finish reading a particularly good novel, I close the cover with a mysterious but definite sadness that the story has ended. I already miss the characters – who have become my friends — and wish I could linger with them for a bit longer. Quickly, however, this benevolent nostalgia disappears and is replaced by envy. I look at the author’s picture on the dust jacket and wish I’d written the novel instead. I would gladly wish this author to fade into obscurity so I might take center stage and soak up the adulation.
I suppose it’s a form of inadequacy, a bottomless desire and feeling of entitlement to be widely known exactly by the terms that I set. This unhealthy desire reveals a doubt about how I’m currently known to my family and friends. They know me as myself, but I’m not convinced that’s good enough. In order to have value, I need to be more.
There are days it’s easy to feel forgotten even by friends and family. The modern world thrives on busyness and accomplishments, leaving little space to nurture authentic relationships. We often, unknowingly, neglect one another, not realizing that our busyness nevertheless leaves us feeling lonely. All of the comparisons to other people and focus on accomplishments is a nest for breeding jealousy, adding up to a feeling that we are unseen, that we are nothing more than stardust.
Nothing could be less true.
And here’s how I know: Today is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the celebration of Our Lady being taken to Heaven, body and soul. The Church teaches that her experience is a promise of what we, too, will experience in the future. This means that every part of our lives is important. Every single part of you is fitted for heaven – body, soul, funny little quirks, unique personality, interests, loves, interests. Everything about you is worthy enough to be renewed and brought into eternal significance.
You are an immense gift to the universe. Your value isn’t wrapped up in having an outsized prominence in the physical world, and it isn’t based on accomplishments, fame, or influence. Consider the Blessed Virgin Mary. She speaks only a few times in the Scriptures, preferring to keep her own interior, gentle peace, but her full nature, her graced humanity, spends itself in silent furrows that waters the very roots of the universe. It turns out that she is the most important of all. Her children — you and I — well, what mother wouldn’t consider her sons and daughters to be even more precious?