Note: This post is part of the Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-Thon in honor of the tenth anniversary of Sagan’s death.
When I was a kid in DC, I used to love visiting the Air & Space Museum. I collected everything I could get from NASA and thrilled to the images that came back from the Vikings, Pioneers, and Voyagers. I also watched Cosmos even though I didn’t understand half of what Dr. Sagan was talking about.
What I did understand, what came through loud and clear, was that sense of wonder. That awareness that there were whole worlds happening out there. Here was a man who was humbled and in awe of this grand universe of which we’re only a small part. But here, too, was a man who wanted to know all the mysteries of the universe, who seemed to be seeking knowledge for its own sake and yet possessed of a desire to share that knowledge as if in sharing it he could fill us all with the kind of wonder that makes one recognize the preciousness of life.
I gained much from joining Carl on the deck of the Ship of the Imagination over the years. I found a love for knowing, not to be a know-it-all or to amuse friends with an impressive command of trivia, but for the kind of knowledge that fills the soul, fires the imagination, and makes us whole.
As an adult, I read Cosmos and Billions & Billions and was struck by not just his passion for scientific discovery but by his compassion for his fellow beings. One thing he said or wrote (I can’t remember) that has always stayed with me was something to the effect of “if we find life on Mars, then we must leave and not go back because then Mars would belong to the Martians.” It’s this desire for knowledge, this thrill of exploration tempered by a profound respect for and love of life that I most admired about Carl Sagan.
There’s another Carl connection in my life. When I was first getting to know the woman I would later marry, we found ourselves in a video store uninspired by the shelves of recent releases. Finally, she said, “Let’s watch a Carl.”
“You know. Cosmos. I love that stuff.”
I couldn’t believe it. Something in me knew that I’d found the person I wanted to share my life with. Here was someone who was as moved by the vastness and wonder of the universe as me. Someone who had gained at least a part of that from Carl Sagan.
I hadn’t seen Cosmos in years, but we rented “Blues for a Red Planet” and fell in love cruising with Carl on the Ship of the Imagination.