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My Own Dark Energy
What I’m about to say will sound absolutely ridiculous. I love everything about outer space. And when I think about it, I feel like downright sh*t. Now, what exactly is “downright sh*t”? Well, it’s the only word I could think of that was both accurate and relatable. To those who can’t aren’t human, “downright sh*t” is smallness, lacking consequence, insignificance. Nearly everyone has felt like shit at one point in life, so for the sake of understanding (and perhaps a little empathy) this will serve as a point of reference. Think back to this sh*tty point and imagine how it felt. It’s not fun, is it? It’s crippling. It’s miserable. Some thing, some event, or perhaps it was some person caused this troublesome feeling, and thankfully, it doesn’t last long.
Maybe it’s my clinical depression, maybe I have too much time on my hands, or it’s plausible that I’m just over-analytical and a wee bit neurotic. I still don’t know the underlying explanation behind my prolonged existential funk. I don’t know any scientific jargon, nor do I know the prettiest combinations of words to do my feelings justice. All I know is that I took this thing I loved, the infinitely beautiful universe, and for a moment misinterpreted its beauty into a nasty, mania-inducing creature that preyed on my happiness and stripped meaning from my life. I love learning about cosmology and astronomy; it’s my heroin, or it’s that cute boy who’s always so mean to me, but I can’t help but have a crush on him. My relationship with the sky makes me feel so alive, but once provoked thought that made me feel so unnecessary.
Here is just a taste of the thoughts that frequented the corners of my mind, and condemned me to hide in bed all day. The planets, stars, galaxies nebulas, and all other seen objects in the known universe make up only 4% of its entirety (Steinhardt 2497). 4% is so measly, so tiny, considering we are just negligible matter smeared across a rotating orb, in a rather modest-sized solar system, found in a rather average-sized galaxy, neighbored by some hundreds of billions of assorted galaxies, all of which compose almost nothing of everything. My friend, we are small.
We are a fraction, of a fraction, of a fraction, of a fraction of nothing. We know so little of this nothing. The little that is known, however, captivates my fleeting attention span and makes me think more transcendentally when I return from daydreaming among the stars.
Maybe I’m just weird.
“Faith, Miss Juarez! You must have faith!” shrieked Mrs. Davis through her quivering jowls. I reciprocated with an annoyed overlap of my arms, for this was long before I discovered sarcasm or talking back. I was in third grade. Mrs. Davis was my religion teacher that I liked just about as much as an explosive case of the stomach flu. Hell, I hated religion class. I was infamous for constantly demanding proof of God’s existence, which Mrs. Davis failed to provide. I’m not saying that I was a bad kid. I was a precocious little firecracker, and every teacher I had in grade school adored me. I was never one to buck authority until Mrs. Davis decided to teach our religion class the wrong thing.
I just don’t think she knew about how the universe came to be. She was not teaching correct information to the class, and I thought that I should tell her the truth. Maybe she’ll thank me for catching her mistake, I thought. Everyone knew that it all started with a Big Bang, right? I read it in my book at home about the solar system. My hand shot up, and I flapped it around to make her call on me faster.
I promptly found myself in the principal’s office seated next to the future felons of America. I was a good kid! I just wanted to tell her the truth! My reasoning fell upon deaf Catholic ears. I was told to keep my comments to myself, to which I responded with the characteristic crossing of my arms over my plaid jumper. I may have even pouted a little.
Regardless of these idiot’s attempts to make me believe their nonsense, my loyalties lied strongly with the information given by my books about space. They didn’t extinguish my fire; conversely, it was intensified.
Unfortunately, I drool over cosmic-related articles and findings in my spare time. I have a favorites folder on my laptop full of astronomy blogs and breakthrough discoveries in space, all of which I have found to be essential to successful procrastination. I am now a sleep-deprived college student who is constantly behind in classes, thanks to my aversion to “real work” which I blame on this stupid folder. Just kidding, I love this folder.
With this in mind, there was this one momentous day where I actually attended my English class. Luckily, we received a research paper for an assignment, but wait. . .we chose the topic? I was floored. Excited even. I’ve never been so excited to do research for an English paper in my life. In fact, I can guarantee that I have not once used the word “excited” in reference to my otherwise tedious education. Naturally, my topic was going to be found in my favorites folder.
Needless to say, I made it a special moment for my education and me. I locked the door to my dorm to keep out the ninnies on my floor, made a stout cup of ginger peach green tea, swallowed four Adderall, and retired to my desk. Boy, did research ensue. I was productive in my favorites folder, and life was good. I kept my thinking at a superficial level for tonight.
Eight amphetamine-fueled and enjoyable hours disappeared from my night like a comet into the horizon as I narrowed my topic to dark energy. Dark energy was a mind-blowing new discovery that held me in rapture. I remember telling all of my friends about it only to receive blank stares and an abrupt change of subject. Their reaction solidified my decision to delve deeper into this mysterious stuff that appears to be expanding the universe.
Markedly, astrophysicists, cosmologists, and astronomers across the world are unable to place a purpose behind this abundant presence in the universe. Indubitably, NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy are expected to launch a reasonably-priced $600 million dollar space telescope with the hopes of measuring dark energy; a plan they have dubbed the Joint Dark Energy Mission, or JDEM (Cho 1482). I personally can’t wait. The discovery of this dark energy is one of the most profound discoveries in the history of science! It brings about the notion that gravity can now repel, as well as attract (Steinhardt 2497). Textbooks must be rewritten; the attractive gravity that we all know and love is “the minority in the Universe today” (Steinhardt 2497). It is astounding that the majority of the composition of the universe has gone undetected until recently. It is astounding that something I find so impacting can slip under the noses of the greatest minds in science. Dark energy is just astounding.
I was in grade school. Oh, those were the days where we actually went to the library for reading class. There weren’t any literary analyses to ponder upon, Shakespeare to translate, or hefty reading assignments like adulthood showed us, just the superficiality of picture books. In grade school, I frequently checked out books about black holes, pulsars, and other unconventional literature for children my age, usually pertaining to outer space. I think I had a UFO spell for a little while. My friends called me weird. Maybe they were right, but they also didn’t know that we could all be enveloped by the gravitational pull of a dark hole, so the joke was on them. I didn’t really like dolls, nor did I spend much time on girly frivolities. I liked to read books, especially books about space.
Those who have major depressive disorders, like myself, process information differently than most, and are considered to be emotionally intelligent. Instead of seeing a beautiful star-filled sky, I perceive this information as negatively biased and one-sided, and I experience sadness (Hertel). Maybe somebody should have stopped me, so that thinking about the universe would not have made me feel so worthless when I got older. Maybe somebody should have shoved a Barbie in my hand and sent me out of the library. It’s possible that somebody tried, but in the end knowledge won, and I’m still here obsessing over the love of my youth.
In defiance of the amount of research I did on dark energy, my information started to contradict the other information I collected. Once again, I was left frustrated by the unanswered questions of the universe. I felt a burning obligation to clarify my dark energy findings, but my greatest desire lied in the fulfillment of my empty existence. This paper was beginning to reveal an ulterior motive, one which I was not opposed to: enlightenment and purpose to my otherwise cursory life. I set off to the astronomy department with a list of interview questions, and hop in my step.
It was here that I talked to a wise, old, sage. His name was Professor John Ralston, and I’ve never been so entranced watching another person talk. His mismatched clothing and messy office painted a portrait of eccentricity I wanted to be a part of. He was so happy and loved that which I loved, but failed to take away meaning from his life as I did. At times, I had not the slightest notion as to what he was talking about, but his words were so ripe with passion I couldn’t look away.
Dark energy, Ralston told me, was so unknown to the world of cosmology that there is boundless room for interpretation and crackpot theories. Unfortunately, it is the most outrageous theories that get the most media attention and become wrongly accepted among society. People interpret what they don’t know and make it into something they do know, which leaves us feeling comforted and enthralled by the audacious ideas thought up by theoretical physicists. This guy is a genius.
I was in middle school. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a lamentable shack that smelled like cigarettes and manure, but I looked forward to every visit to this shabby farm in Iowa where I would lay in the bed of my grandpa’s work truck and gaze at the stars. It was indescribable being so close and intimate with something as magical as the star-speckled night sky. It was inevitable that I lost hours of my weekend nights while I peered from under the thin blanket that separated me from the abysmal blackness of our galaxy. I felt no sadness, only awe. I knew how miniscule earth was in the grand scheme of things, but my young eyes only saw beauty.
I fired through my interview questions about dark energy. Eventually, I got to the ones I was embarrassed to talk about. Why does it make more sense when I’m high? Have you ever had overwhelming feelings of insignificance? Why do I feel so shitty because of space? Of course, I wouldn’t ask him all of these questions, but this sagacious man sensed my reluctance and snatched up my paper.
“What else do you need to know, Maria?” he inquired over his glasses. A mischievious grin emerged as he read the final questions that weren’t truly intended for his eyes. He laughed. He understood. He was young once, too.
My God, I was turning red. I felt like I was in the principal’s office again. Somehow, though, I mustered up the courage ask him one last question.
“When you think about how big the universe is,” I started, “does it ever make you sad?” My words stumbled out of my mouth in an awkward display of apparent embarrassment, which broadened the gap between his brilliance and my ignorance. I can’t help but marvel at his answer. “Humans are complex. We are truly as remarkable as the universe and all it entails. How could I be sad about something so beautiful wanting to learn more about another thing that’s so beautiful?”
And with this closing thought, my melancholy vanished. Light was shed on dark energy, and the despondent reasoning it stirred within me. He changed my thinking with an hour of intricate conversation, and I walked out of his office with an unfamiliar feeling of contentment. Through my research, I have picked up a new perspective on things. Much like with dark energy, perspectives can change and my life may later be interpreted in a way that poses a problem for my mental health. I’ll make sure to push through. After all, I’m still learning and maturing.
Above all, a dues ex machina this tale is not. I just now use my thinking for my benefit, sifting through what’s truly important and what’s not. Stephen Hawking said, “To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be limit the human spirit.” I can’t agree more. There is something out there greater than Dollar Night at the Hawk, and far more consequential that the emotional trauma following a bad hair day. I feel like a little girl again: less disheartening thoughts and more inspiration and fulfillment when I look up at the sky.