Last night there was no moon and no clouds. It was so bright and clear that I couldn't resist going out to take a gander at the stars. It was, once again, a brilliant and dazzling spectacle.
I can never remember whether there are two hundred million or two hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Both numbers are so beyond my ability to grasp that I wonder whether it even matters. But after marveling at the expanse of stars, I returned to the computer and did the research. It's true and astonishing: there are between 100 and 400 billion stars in our home galaxy. (The astronomers, I have to say, give themselves quite a bit of leeway.) And then I was reminded that there are an estimated billion galaxies in the universe.
I was feeling mighty small, mighty intimidated.
After a while, I went upstairs to dip back into the book on human anatomy that I'm struggling to read. Here's a fact that I should have known, but didn't: there are six trillion cells in the human body. More or less.
That's a a lot of cells. And a lot of stars. If a trillion is a thousand billion, then there are a thousand times more cells in my own personal body than there are galaxies in the universe, which is an interesting but not particularly important statistic.
I feel as though there is some important conclusion that I should draw from these numbers, but honestly I have nothing much to say beyond the usual awe -- that ordinary feeling of insignificance and impermanence. It's not exactly news that I am merely a heap of cells in an obscure corner of a tiny planet of an undistinguished star in a medium-size constellation.
And yet, sitting by the pond this sunny afternoon, watching a pair of companionable ducks slowly swimming one after another, I have to say that this particular transitory conglomeration of cells has been enjoying a mighty fine day.