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← An ode to living on Earth


Showing Revision 8 created 04/27/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. [Oliver Jeffers]
  2. [An ode to living on Earth]

  3. Hello.

  4. I'm sure by the time
    I get to end of this sentence,
  5. given how I talk,
  6. you'll all have figured out
    that I'm from a place called
  7. planet Earth.
  8. Earth is pretty great.
  9. It's home to us.
  10. And germs.
  11. Those [blip] take a back seat
    for the time being,
  12. because believe it or not,
    they're not the only thing going on.
  13. This planet is also home
    to cars, brussels sprouts;

  14. those weird fish things
    that have their own headlights;
  15. art, fire,
  16. fire extinguishers,
  17. laws, pigeons, bottles of beer,
  18. lemons and light bulbs;
  19. Pinot noir and paracetamol;
  20. ghosts, mosquitoes, flamingos, flowers,
  21. the ukulele, elevators and cats,
  22. cat videos, the internet;
  23. iron beams, buildings and batteries,
  24. all ingenuity and bright ideas,
    all known life ...
  25. and a whole bunch of other stuff.
  26. Pretty much everything we know
    and ever heard of.
  27. It's my favorite place, actually.
  28. This small orb,
  29. floating in a cold and lonely
    part of the cosmos.
  30. Oh, the accent is from Belfast,
    by the way, which is ...
  31. here.
  32. Roughly.
  33. You may think you know this planet Earth,

  34. as you're from here.
  35. But chances are,
  36. you probably haven't thought
    about the basics in a while.
  37. I thought I knew it.
  38. Thought I was an expert, even.
  39. Until, that is, I had to explain
    the entire place,
  40. and how it's supposed to work,
  41. to someone who had never been here before.
  42. Not what you might think,
  43. although my dad always did say
  44. the sure sign of intelligent
    life out there
  45. is that they haven't bothered
    trying to contact us.
  46. It was actually my newborn son
    I was trying to explain things to.
  47. We'd never been parents before,
  48. my wife and I,
  49. and so treated him like most guests
    when he arrived home for the first time,
  50. by giving him the tour.
  51. This is where you live, son.
  52. This room is where we make food at.
  53. This is the room we keep
    our collection of chairs, and so on.
  54. It's refreshing,
  55. explaining how our planet works
    to a zero-year-old.
  56. But after the laughs,
  57. and once the magnitude that new humans
    know absolutely nothing
  58. settles on you and how little
    you know either,
  59. explaining the whole planet
    becomes quite intimidating.
  60. But I tried anyway.
  61. As I walked around those first few weeks,

  62. narrating the world as I saw it,
  63. I began to take notes
    of the ridiculous things I was saying.
  64. The notes slowly morphed into a letter
  65. intended for my son
    once he learned to read.
  66. And that letter became a book
  67. about the basic principles
    of what it is to be a human
  68. living on Earth in the 21st century.
  69. Some things are really obvious.
  70. Like, the planet is made of two parts:
  71. land and sea.
  72. Some less obvious
    until you think about them.
  73. Like, time.
  74. Things can sometimes
    move slowly here on Earth.
  75. But more often, they move quickly.
  76. So use your time well,
    it will be gone before you know it.
  77. Or people.
  78. People come in all different
    shapes, sizes and colors.
  79. We may all look different,
  80. act different and sound different,
  81. but don't be fooled.
  82. We are all people.
  83. It doesn't skip me that of all
    the places in the universe,

  84. people only live on Earth,
  85. can only live on Earth.
  86. And even then,
    only on some of the dry bits.
  87. There's only a very small
    part of the surface of our planet
  88. that is actually habitable to human life,
  89. and squeezed in here
    is where all of us live.
  90. It's easy to forget
    when you're up close to the dirt,
  91. the rocks, the foliage,
    the concrete of our lands,
  92. just how limited the room
    for maneuvering is.
  93. From a set of eyes close to the ground,
  94. the horizon feels like it goes forever.
  95. After all, it's not an every-day ritual
  96. to consider where we are
    on the ball of our planet
  97. and where that ball is in space.
  98. I didn't want to tell my son
    the same story of countries

  99. that we were told where I was growing up
    in Northern Ireland.
  100. That we were from just a small parish,
  101. which ignores life
    outside its immediate concerns.
  102. I wanted to try to feel
    what it was like to see our planet
  103. as one system, as a single object,
  104. hanging in space.
  105. To do this,
  106. I would need to switch
    from flat drawings for books
  107. to 3D sculpture for the street,
  108. and I'd need almost 200 feet,
  109. a New York City block,
  110. to build a large-scale model of the moon,
  111. the Earth and us.
  112. This project managed to take place
    on New York City's High Line park

  113. last winter,
  114. on the 50th anniversary
    of Apollo 11's mission around the Moon.
  115. After its installation,
  116. I was able to put on
    a space helmet with my son
  117. and launch, like Apollo 11 did
    half a century ago,
  118. towards the Moon.
  119. We circled around
  120. and looked back at us.
  121. What I felt was
  122. how lonely it was there in the dark.
  123. And I was just pretending.
  124. The Moon is the only object
  125. even remotely close to us.
  126. And at the scale of this project,
  127. where our planet was 10 feet in diameter,
  128. Mars, the next planet,
    will be the size of a yoga ball
  129. and a couple of miles away.
  130. Although borders
    are not visible from space,

  131. on my sculpture,
  132. every single border was drawn in.
  133. But rather than writing the country names
    on the carved-up land,
  134. I wrote over and over again,
  135. "people live here, people live here."
  136. "People live here."
  137. And off on the Moon, it was written,
  138. "No one lives here."
  139. Often, the obvious things
  140. aren't all that obvious
    until you think about them.
  141. Seeing anything
    from a vast enough distance

  142. changes everything,
  143. as many astronauts have experienced.
  144. And human eyes
    have only ever seen our Earth
  145. from as far as the Moon, really.
  146. It's quite a ways further
  147. before we get to the edges
    of our own Solar System.
  148. And even out to other stars,
    to the constellations.
  149. There is actually only one point
    in the entire cosmos
  150. that is present in all
    constellations of stars,
  151. and that presence is
  152. here, planet Earth.
  153. Those pictures we have made up
    for the clusters of stars
  154. only make sense from
    this point of view down here.
  155. Their stories only make sense
    here on Earth.
  156. And only something to us.
  157. To people.
  158. We are creatures of stories.
  159. We are the stories we tell,
  160. we're the stories we're told.
  161. Consider briefly the story
    of human civilization on Earth.

  162. It tells of the ingenuity, elegance,
  163. generous and nurturing nature of a species
  164. that is also self-focused, vulnerable
  165. and defiantly protective.
  166. We, the people, shield
    the flame of our existence
  167. from the raw, vast elements
    outside our control,
  168. the great beyond.
  169. Yet it is always to the flame we look.
  170. "For all we know,"
  171. when said as a statement,
  172. it means the sum total of all knowledge.
  173. But when said another way,
  174. "for all we know,"
  175. it means that we do not know at all.
  176. This is the beautiful,
    fragile drama of civilization.
  177. We are the actors and spectators
    of a cosmic play
  178. that means the world to us here,
  179. but means nothing anywhere else.
  180. Possibly not even that much
    down here, either.
  181. If we truly thought about
    our relationship with our boat,

  182. with our Earth,
  183. it might be more of a story
    of ignorance and greed.
  184. As is the case with Fausto,
  185. a man who believed he owned everything
  186. and set out to survey what was his.
  187. He easily claims ownership of a flower,
  188. a sheep, a tree and a field.
  189. The lake and the mountain
    prove harder to conquer,
  190. but they, too, surrender.
  191. It is in trying to own the open sea
  192. where his greed proves his undoing,
  193. when, in a fit of arrogance,
  194. he climbs overboard
    to show that sea who is boss.
  195. But he does not understand,
  196. slips beneath the waves,
    sinks to the bottom.
  197. The sea was sad for him
  198. but carried on being the sea.
  199. As do all the other objects
    of his ownership,
  200. for the fate of Fausto
    does not matter to them.
  201. For all the importance in the cosmos
    we believe we hold,

  202. we'd have nothing
  203. if not for this Earth.
  204. While it would keep happily spinning,
  205. obliviously without us.
  206. On this planet, there are people.

  207. We have gone about our days,
  208. sometimes we look up and out,
  209. mostly we look down and in.
  210. Looking up and by drawing lines
    between the lights in the sky,
  211. we've attempted to make
    sense out of chaos.
  212. Looking down, we've drawn lines
    across the land to know where we belong
  213. and where we don't.
  214. We do mostly forget that these lines
    that connect the stars
  215. and those lines that divide the land
  216. live only in our heads.
  217. They, too, are stories.
  218. We carry out our everyday
    routines and rituals
  219. according to the stories
    we most believe in,
  220. and these days, the story
    is changing as we write it.
  221. There is a lot of fear
    in this current story,

  222. and until recently,
  223. the stories that seemed
    to have the most power
  224. are those of bitterness,
  225. of how it had all gone wrong for us
    individually and collectively.
  226. It has been inspiring to watch
    how the best comes from the worst.
  227. How people are waking up
    in this time of global reckoning
  228. to the realization that our
    connections with each other
  229. are some of the most
    important things we have.
  230. But stepping back.

  231. For all we've had to lament,
  232. we spend very little time relishing
    the single biggest thing
  233. that has ever gone right for us.
  234. That we are here in the first place,
  235. that we are alive at all.
  236. That we are still alive.
  237. A million and a half years
    after finding a box of matches,
  238. we haven't totally burned the house down.
  239. Yet.
  240. The chances of being here
    are infinitesimal.
  241. Yet here we are.
  242. Perils and all.
  243. There have never been
    more people living on Earth.

  244. Using more stuff.
  245. And it's become obvious
    that many of the old systems
  246. we invented for ourselves
  247. are obsolete.
  248. And we have to build new ones.
  249. If it wasn't germs,
  250. our collective fire
    might suffocate us before long.
  251. As we watch the wheels
    of industry grind to a halt,
  252. the machinery of progress become silent,
  253. we have the wildest of opportunities
  254. to hit the reset button.
  255. To take a different path.
  256. Here we are on Earth.

  257. And life on Earth is a wonderful thing.
  258. It looks big, this Earth,
  259. but there are lots of us on here.
  260. Seven and a half billion at last count,
  261. with more showing up every day.
  262. Even so,
  263. there is still enough for everyone,
  264. if we all share a little.
  265. So please,
  266. be kind.
  267. When you think of it another way,

  268. if Earth is the only place
    where people live,
  269. it's actually the least
    lonely place in the universe.
  270. There are plenty of people to be loved by
  271. and plenty of people to love.
  272. We need each other.
  273. We know that now, more than ever.
  274. Good night.