Humans have always been a travelling species, whether in search of food, refuge, security or for occupation. Some of our greatest technological advancements have been the fruits of travel. Take the Space Race for example.
Perhaps the most widely reproduced and influential photographs of all time is The Blue Marble, captured by the Moon-bound Apollo 17 crew on the 7th of December 1972.
The reason for the photograph’s reputation is in large measure because it was an afterthought. Even though the labor hours of around 400,000 people in addition to $156,000,000,000 (in today’s money) were singularly invested toward reaching our Lunar neighbor, it was a fleeting photograph captured in a spare moment on one mission that caused such a great tremor throughout our collective consciousness.
It was in this fragile beauty that we recognized how tenuous the division of our world from the backdrop mist of blackness that surrounded her. For once we recognized Earth as a material, single whole.
The conventional wisdom defines this photograph, among the many other great leaps forward of the Space Age, as a coming-of-age moment for our species. It was an affirmation, in material form, of the maturation of our knowledge and our power. As a result of this comprehension, we gathered a new sense of responsibility, the careful stewardship of this delicate abode.
The eminent Theologian, Paul Tillich, said of the effect of looking back at Earth as “…a kind of estrangement between man and earth.” Said another way, we are for once confronted with the forest from ourselves, trees. To those astronauts, their world was no longer constrained to the boundaries of their homes, the spread of their towns or the stretch of their nation of origin.
I think this photograph and its reception reiterate an aspect of culture shock familiar to all travelers – just at a grander scale.
It is only when we travel beyond our familiar frontiers that we begin to recognize what home is. We define it in hindsight.
This is what I have become to realize over this past week after arriving on the foreign soil of the Emerald Isle of Ireland. Albeit at a far less ambitious scale than that of the Astronauts, I began to recognize by contrast what the peculiarities of my home are, whilst in the presence of another. Although initially disorientating, one is compelled to push through in the knowledge that this represents a maturation of sorts. A validation of successes thus far though tempered by a new set of responsibilities, that I will act to preserve and honor, to the best of my ability, the new home that I find myself in.
Acknowledging that however intimidating it may be at times, I am here as a legacy of ancestors from around the globe who themselves made journeys often far more perilous than my own. Whether it be those that made their tentative steps out of Africa around 60kya, across the Eurasian steppes in the Bronze Age or faring the Agulhas current toward the Cape of Good Hope in the 19th century. It’s a deep legacy.