Orbital Wobbles: The True Impact of our Lives
On a recent trip to a planetarium, I watched a short film about how scientists find planets orbiting distant stars. While the planets are too far away to be seen even with our most powerful telescopes, the stars they orbit can be seen because of their immense brightness. Astronomers have learned to study the slight variations in the movements of these stars which are affected by the gravitational pull of their orbiting planets. Put more simply, the planets can’t be seen but their influence on the stars they orbit can, and that’s how astronomers find them, while never being able to see them. These are known as “orbital wobbles.”
You, me, and every other person on this planet all move around each other as we go about our daily lives. And we assume many things about ourselves. Some of these assumptions are positive and some are negative, for example, “I’m a good person,” or “I’m worthless.”
But even though these assumptions can be very different in their content, they all have two things in common. First, each of us writes the list the assumptions we have about ourselves. I can think to myself “I’m fun to be around,” or “I write really good weekly messages,” (like how I snuck that in there?). I assume my assumptions are true just because they’re about me, and I know me better than anyone, right? This leads us to the second thing that our autobiographical list of assumptions have in common: they are assumptions. I would like to think that I’m the best expert on who I really am. It seems to make sense: I know my own thoughts, my unseen intentions, etc. But no matter how much I assume they are true, they remain assumptions.
Astronomy teaches us that the true measure of a planet is the effect it has on the star it orbits and the other planets nearby. If a planet could make assumptions about itself, it wouldn’t matter. Its reality would still be measured only by its effects on its neighbors.
And really, we’re no different: we go about our lives, each of us influencing countless lives around us, but only rarely knowing what that influence really is. Sometimes this effect is obvious and dramatic: a terrorist, whose attack has a direct effect on the victims of his evil act, and an indirect one on millions around the world. Usually, the action is more subtle: a mom in line at the checkout stand, who lets a young man in a hurry go in front of her. Sweating and nervous, he barely acknowledges the kindness, but hurries off to the presentation he’s late for. She is unaware that he is on his way to an interview, applying for a grant to convert an empty warehouse to a food bank. Receiving the grant, the food bank eventually takes tons of food that would have ended up in the garbage and instead puts it on the plates of hundreds of hungry children, each with a name and a face and a story. And each living a life that can only be measured by the effect they have on those around them, but none of them knowing about a mom in line at a checkout stand.
So maybe it’s time we stop making lists about ourselves, assuming we know who we really are when, in all reality, these assumptions too often give us a false sense of complacency, based on over-inflated estimations of our true value to others. Instead, let’s focus on the one thing that really matters: who we can be for others. Our actions – big and small, helpful or hurtful – are what affect the world around us.
During coffee hour this Sunday, we will host a ministry fair. Like a job fair or a club fair in the first week of college, tables will be set up where you can wander around and learn about the many opportunities for service that exist in our parish. Entitled “OMG (Orthodox Ministry for God)–Engage” the goal is for each of us to find one or two from the plethora of opportunities offered, and engage in service, in order to have a positive effect on our fellow travelers through time and space.
These fellow travelers include our fellow parishioners, but also extend to include—literally—those living in the farthest regions across the globe. And while we may never know the effect we’ve had on someone’s life, they will.