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Above and Beyond

In a video released today, Colonel Chris Hadfield gives his own rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that there’s some pretty terrible stuff going on in our world right now. It’s probably been that way for the whole of human history—and yeah, I’m not optimistic that the bad stuff will ever completely go away. Even if we did, as a species, stop doing godsawful things to each other and to the other creatures that share our little blue marble with us, I doubt we could ever totally do away with those “slings and arrows” the Bard wrote about. The Buddhists say that life—that crazy trip of birth, growth, old age, and death that all of us are on right now—is inherently filled with suffering. While, so far as I know, nobody’s made a scientific study of that hypothesis, anecdotal evidence thus far seems to suggest they’re right. You can’t not experience pain and suffering, and live on this planet. Or any planet, I imagine.

But despite all of that, Col. Hadfield’s video is a powerful reminder that we as a species are so much more than the petty, mean, self-centered, short-sighted, insecure crap we do to ourselves and to each other. We are creatures of curiosity and wonder, driven to some of our greatest moments by the unbridled desire to know; we seek—and find—awe and beauty in the cosmos, and are driven to share our experiences so that others can be moved by them, too; we are, at heart, child-like and rather silly creatures, finding delight in bits of silliness in the midst of the Serious Business of our lives. We are, in our best moments, creatures at play with each other, and with this mad impossible universe in which we find ourselves. We are so much more than the worst of ourselves; we are immeasurably above and beyond the pettiness of I-me-mine and us-versus-them that plagues our lesser moments. And a guitar floating in zero-G, while the Earth wheels around far below, can be enough to remind us of that–of our smallness, and our bigness.

And that’s kind of magnificent.

Col. Hadfield handed over command of the International Space Station yesterday, prior to his scheduled return to his home planet late this evening in Kazakhstan. Here’s wishing him a safe journey back to Earth, with thanks for sharing his adventures with the rest of us back here.

P.S.: Scientific American has put together a Top Ten list of videos Hadfield filmed while on the ISS that I highly recommend perusing.