Light From the Past Illuminates the Future

July 14, 2022

I have seen into the past and it is breathtaking.

The astonishing images we've seen this week from the James Webb Space Telescope, tucked safely into an empty gravitational parking lot four times farther away than our moon, are already changing the universe and our understanding of physics in ways we might hardly imagine. And of course, some of the things we are seeing are so far away that it has taken 13 BILLION years for that light to arrive at Webb to be captured by our instruments and cameras - peering back into the dawn of time.

As a kid I watched the syndicated reruns of the original Star Trek intently, trying to imagine a future with warp drive, medical scanners and handheld wireless communication devices. And here in 2022, a lot of that futuristic technology is part of our everyday life. If Scotty can ever get the transporters back on line so we can beam ourselves from one place to another without sitting on the Beltway....

I certainly have been living the "past as prologue" thread of late. Between having my career hijacked by my ancestors until I finished Treasures in My Chest, to spending a good chunk of the last year hearing 25-year old me playing guitar in ways I'm not sure I even understand, let alone might replicate, the works of my present have arrived from the past; my past, the past of my ancestors. My own gleaming at this light just now arriving across the vast distance of time and memory, even as I watch the future unfold in front of me.

We had a phenomenal time playing at the Mountville Folk Festival a few weeks ago - the band's first show together in three years. Midway through our set we were joined on stage by my now 15-year old daughter and her fiddle, and Lisa's daughter Rachel Taylor and her cello, now midway through her studies at Peabody Conservatory. I've had those moments before of course, and they are beautiful to be part of in real time. But I saw the future too - those two holding court with Kate MacLeod and her fiddle, late night holding court in the center of a lively Celtic and oldtime jam. I just played along on the edge of their galaxy, watching their starstuff igniting embers and glowing. Who knows where that light might reach someday?

My friend Annie is a rocket scientist; or more precisely, she works with rocket scientists and translates their discoveries into plain English for the rest of us to appreciate. She is one of 30 or so mostly astrophysics folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore on the Early Release team for the Webb. One of those iconic first images of Webb clearly showed a galaxy in edge view, and Annie was the first one on the team to realize what it was.

Imagine going to work tomorrow and discovering a whole new galaxy; maybe like our Milky Way, maybe profoundly different. Teeming with stars, planets, all kinds of stellar phenomena - and maybe hundreds of billions of living beings that we'll never know about it in our lifetime. All on a tiny speck in our sky. The Annie Nebula.

May you live this day like you are unique, powerful and enormously profound, for you are made of some of that very same starstuff. Give yourself permission to live like it.

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