The Suitcase Lady


April 19, 2011, 10:59 pm

We’re spinning, and it’s not a lazy twirl. Zipping around at 700 to 900 miles per hour at mid-latitudes is major travel.

Each dawn our rock spins toward the sun; each dusk it spins away into darkness. Being the most egotistical species on the planet, we say the sun rises and sets, implying that our star ascends and falls in the heavens to create our days and nights.

Intellectually, we know that the sun isn’t doing the moving and “rise” is a stunningly inaccurate word.

Diane Ackerman in her elegant book, Dawn Light, tells the true scenario:

“Night falls, we say, as if it were the closing curtain in a one-act play. But, really, day falls – we fall toward and roll away from the sun.”

I understood that earth is spinning like a top by age four. I had to wait until I was forty to internalize that fact. My husband and I were sitting in O’Hare Airport and drinking coffee waiting to board a plane to Europe, a long flight from east to west. The conversation veered to the implications of flying fast against the earth’s west to east revolution. I could sense the disorientation that was about to occur to my body’s circadian rhythms. I’ve felt like a space traveler ever since.

As we become more and more interactive with technology, we become less and less in touch with the natural forces that dictate our lives. Magical thinking sets in, and it’s not good magic…global warming is denied, nuclear plants are built over fault lines, water is polluted and resources recklessly squandered.

Would we be jolted out of our stupor if one morning our little, blue planet failed to spin into the sun?

Here is one simple idea to help us reconnect. It’s a question I ask my elementary school students when we study the solar system, and it refers to a bigger trip than our daily spin. “How many times have you personally gone around the sun?”

I am usually greeted with puzzled stares or denials that this feat is possible. But then one child connects and blurts out their age.

So on your next birthday, ponder the number of trips you have taken around our star. It’s enlightening.

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