By Ellie Haylund
From time to time, a powerful series of quotes by Carl Sagan pass through my mind:
“As long as there have been humans, we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”
“All of the rocks we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star stuff.”
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
My husband and I drew from these quotes for a reading during our wedding ceremony. We found the juxtaposition of science and emotion to perfectly represent both our shared life perspective and the essence of humanism. Our celebrant expertly wove chemistry, data, and numbers with passion, meaning, and feeling to convey the intersection of the cool tone of facts and the warm concept of love.
As humanists, we are a community of inquisitive, curious, and science-minded people. But we also emphasize a less scientific piece – relationships and connection. We believe in compassion for living beings and the planet, equality and equity, and community service. And while self-defined purposes are inherently subjective, our shared tenets are what distinguish us as opposed to a mere lack of belief in a higher power. We carefully combine the perhaps detached logic of it all with the emotional essence of unity.
The most abstract layer to my view of humanism is Sagan’s last statement – that the overwhelming weight and enormity of our existence can be eased by love. For some of us, it’s easy to get caught up in the headiness of it all. The more I analyze the nature of existence, the smaller I feel. And this can create an existential spiral, despite my strong ties to my humanistic view on personal meaning.
But, as I periodically do, I encourage you to remember the spirit of love. It may not be the most logical or rational, but it can provide a respite from the academically minded thinking that can dominate our perspective as we navigate our lives.
We may be blood, calcium, and carbon – star stuff. But we know that, as humanists, we are also creativity, empathy, and affection. We contain multitudes.
Ellie Haylund is president of HumanistsMN.