When you look up at the stars in the night sky, what do you feel?
Many people say the vastness of the universe and the countless stars make them feel puny and insignificant.
In a way, that’s understandable.
The star that Earth orbits around is just one of many in the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. In fact, there are perhaps 100 billion stars in our cosmic “neighbourhood.”
And the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies. Estimates vary as to how many galaxies exist in the observable universe: some experts suggest a couple hundred billion, and others postulate as many as 10 trillion.
It’s impossible for us to know how many stars there are in the observable universe, but here’s the largest guess I came across: Multiplying the higher number of estimated galaxies by the Milky Way’s estimated 100 billion stars gives a possibility of 1 septillion stars in the universe (1 quadrillion in the European system). That’s a “1” with 24 zeroes after it!
The Milky Way is so enormous that, even travelling at light speed, it would take 100,000 years to travel across it. The observable universe is incredibly more vast: according to current thinking, it’s about 93 billion light years in diameter.
No wonder people feel small when they contemplate the unimaginable expanse of the universe!
But for me, this knowledge doesn’t make me feel insignificant.
In a few days, Canada will be celebrating its birthday. July 1st is Canada Day, a holiday on which we have parties, set off fireworks, and wave the flag.
We’re all attached to our national flags, aren’t we? Each is beautiful in its own way. Some flags have blocks of colour, some feature significant symbols, others have patterns of stars and stripes. A handful of countries depict plants or trees on their flags, mine among them.
Canada’s flag has a maple leaf at its centre. In fact, the nickname for our flag is the Maple Leaf. As a nature lover, I’m proud to have a symbol of a plant on my national flag, and especially pleased that it’s a leaf from one of my favourite trees.
Growing up, I loved maple trees: I climbed them, enjoyed the sugar and fudge made from their sap, collected their red and orange leaves in autumn to press and even jumped into raked-up piles of them.
I’d venture to say that all Canadians love maple trees. The trees themselves are beautiful and stately; the wood harvested from them is so strong it can be used as the flooring for bowling alleys; we harvest precious sap from them to make sought-after products; and the leaves turn gorgeous colours in the autumn.
The maple leaf is the emblem of Canada. It symbolizes who we are as a people: hardy, strong, nature-loving northerners.
Just as the maple tree is important to Canadians, there’s another tree which is very important to a certain group of people:
We humans can’t help but react instinctively to a beautiful smell, can we?
In my last post, The Perfect Recipe for Bread, I mentioned how wonderful the smell of freshly baked bread is in your own home. The same is true when you bake a cake, cook a roast, light a scented candle, or when you bring a bouquet of flowers inside: the aroma fills the whole house and gives you a deep sense of pleasure.
You get the same pleasing effect when you take a walk in your neighbourhood and can detect cooking smells emanating from houses as you pass by: here someone’s making a rich stew, over there a spicy curry. Even better is strolling by someone’s garden and being enveloped by the scent of the lilacs or roses growing there.
But what if a beautiful aroma could permeate an even bigger area?
Has this pandemic made you fearful? Are you afraid that you or your loved ones might catch the COVID-19 virus? Are you nervous about even going out in public? Afraid that life will never be quite the same again?
For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has only added to our list of things to fear. As if we didn’t already have enough things to be afraid of!
There are fears common to many of us, such as fear of spiders or snakes, fear of public speaking or fear of falling.
Then there are the more unusual phobias, such as fear of clocks or clowns, balloons or buttons, and even beards. (Full marks to you if you know that triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)
There’s no end of things to be afraid of in this world. But is fear always bad?
No. God gave us the emotion of fear: it’s there to save us from danger.
But we need to differentiate between good fear and bad fear.
The news these days is pretty depressing, isn’t it?
Each day brings reports of the latest closures due to the coronavirus threat. We’re seeing schools shut down, stores and workplaces shuttered, and restrictions on travel and gathering in groups. More and more aspects of our normal lives are being taken away from us.
Feeling discouraged after watching the news on TV yesterday, I went into the kitchen to make dinner. Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw something shiny pass by the window. First one shimmery orb, then dozens whizzed by. I peered out to discover what on earth they were.
What I saw quickly dispelled my negative thoughts:
Thanks to the coronavirus, we’ve all had to learn some new phrases recently. We’re now painfully familiar with terms like COVID-19, “social distancing,” “self-isolation,” and “flatten the curve.”
Social distancing is perhaps the most wrenching new practice many of us have had to adopt. After all, humans are a social species. It’s unnatural for us to avoid contact with other people, and to keep 2 meters away from those we do encounter.
It’s extremely important that we do so right now, but still….it sort of hurts, doesn’t it?
The Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, and rightly so. Built from white marble, it was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died that year giving birth to their fourteenth child.
For many in India and around the world, the Taj Mahal is an iconic symbol of love. Every stone and jewel used in its construction speaks of the tremendous affection the Shah had for his wife, and his grief at her passing. To many people, the Taj Mahal is the embodiment of love.
If you had guests coming over during the holidays, did you panic because your house was a bit of a mess? Did you try to make your place look neater by hurriedly scooping up a bunch of out-of-place objects from around the house and hurling them onto a bed, then hiding them under a comforter or blanket?
I’m not saying I’ve ever done anything like this, of course. I’ve just heard of other people who have.
What’s your idea of the perfect Christmas? Many of us have images in our minds of what the ideal Yuletide should look like.
It usually involves a spectacular Christmas tree with enticing gifts piled beneath it. The house would be decorated with pine boughs and red bows inside, and the exterior decked out with lights. The day itself would feature a scrumptious dinner with all the fixings, and numerous home-baked desserts. Top it all off with a house full of family, friends and laughter.