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Billion Essays About Love

This excerpt from Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot was inspired by an image taken, at Sagan's suggestion, by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood for the fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size.

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

This mom is fed up with Mother’s Day. Forget gifts; make me part of your life.

Don’t buy me anything for Mother’s Day. Please.

The spending spree on M.D. — Mother’s Day — is ridiculous. Stop the insanity. Stop the credit card debt. Stop the desperation on all sides (moms worried nobody loves them; children worried mom thinks they don’t love her enough).

This contrived observance humors women who crave gratitude. It benefits primarily its perpetrators: greeting-card manufacturers, florists and restaurants that give women red plastic roses to make up for mediocre food and poor service on one of their busiest dates of the year. It also funds daily newspapers, which carry ads for blouses, baking trays and Bluetooths.

According to About.com, in a section curiously called “Women’s History,” people in the United States buy more gifts for Mother’s Day than for any other day except Christmas. Hallmark says 96 percent of U.S. consumers participate in M.D., all desperate to deliver the very best. Surveying “consumer intentions and actions,” the National Retail Federation predicted that M.D. spending would hit $16 billion in 2007. I cannot comprehend that amount. Three years ago, SBC Communications Inc. bought AT&T Corp. for $16 billion. California has a $16 billion budget deficit. Cisco Systems Inc. invests $16 billion in manufacturing, investment and educational programs. OK. But $16 billion for toilet water?

Mothers in the United States number more than 80 million. National Public Radio said recently that the average expenditure per M.D. gift was a whopping $138.50, with men spending more than women. To appease the female parent on the second Sunday in May, loving and dutiful children buy 24 percent of holiday plants and fresh flowers. That’s a lot of baby’s breath.

It’s not the commercialism per se. It’s the idea that we somehow show love through purchases. It’s that so many moms and children are worried, as if the facts of motherhood and childhood were not enough.

Children and husbands buy perfumes and posies for M.D. to assuage guilt or to appease demanding women. Some mothers lie in wait for gifts they have pre-chosen, while others, expecting something, complain about everything. Those remarkable moms, who don’t even deserve a 41-cent stamp, should worry lest a “Mother’s Day sale” offer a once-a-year chance for offspring to unload unpleasant or unloving two X-chromosome ancestors.

We mothers do our mothering 24/7, either physically, as in leveling the back of his first two-wheeler or caressing the train of her bridal veil, or emotionally, as in worrying about her driving lessons or fretting about his backpacking trek through Europe. Mothers always want to know about our children, even if vice is not always versa.

So celebrate Mother’s Day in this way: by making me part of your life. Tell Mommy about your grade in French, your first kiss, your big project. Phone from work, whispering that you landed a gigantic sale and will earn a handsome commission. Share your dreams and fears. Ask me to kiss your stubbed knee or wounded ego.

Entrust your children to my care, even if I let them stay up late. If you want to honor me, shoot me an e-mail. Drop in occasionally for a “connected hug,” as you used to call it.

To celebrate year round, come for dinner. I’ll cook. Or order a pizza. It’s your company I want, not your cuisine or cash. Ask my opinion about the kitten you might adopt, the house you might buy, the job you might take. Invite me on shopping trips for dorm bedspreads, cell phones or diamond rings. Making me part of your daily life, essential or trivial, shows me you care.

You don’t need to spend a penny.

Call, please, and tell me you have canceled Mother’s Day. You have free Sunday calls on your cell. I love you.

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