Friday, July 14, 2017

Orbital Space is Finite

I recently listened to a podcast about space junk, the man-made debris floating around in Earth’s orbit. It discussed how one Cold War-era rocket booster over time may break into 100 smaller pieces of debris, which eventually break into thousands of tiny bits of space junk. It all spins around the planet, occasionally crashing into things, which create exponentially more and smaller debris.

All these little pieces are not gently floating around us in a Hollywood version of zero gravity. They’re moving at incredibly high speed. Millions of tiny pieces of shrapnel, which we know will inevitably cause damage to the satellites and the things in our orbit that we view as important and useful. Like HBO.

We’ve been sending things up into space for 60 years and it’s all starting to accumulate. I guess there was a sense that it would all be ok. That when the usefulness of the things we placed up there was over, they would simply be absorbed into the void. But that’s not how it works. While the universe seems limitless, the earth’s orbital space is finite. 

So now we’re faced with the task of taking stock of what’s up there and figuring out how to clean it all up. It turns out that the process of removal is difficult, delicate, and costly. 

Of course, the other choice is just to leave it there and see what happens. We can keep pretending that everything is fine and somehow it will be OK. Pretending makes it easier to ignore the inevitable, that the shrapnel of the past will eventually crash into the things we need and value now.

This resonates in my bones. I am finally realizing that my own orbital space is finite. There are things in my life that have slowly broken apart over time, leaving tiny, toxic bits of debris in their wake. When do you finally admit to yourself that there are limits to what your orbit can hold? At what point do you invest resources in gently removing the broken things you’ve been holding onto?

In space, gravity and inertia are what hold things in our orbit. They hold the moon in it’s elliptical arc around the earth. Both the good and the bad are held there, in whatever form they currently take, whizzing around us forever. 

I’ve always had trouble with inertia. Inertia is often the boss of me.
I get so frustrated sometimes. I didn’t put all that stuff up there. Most of it isn't even my space junk - yet here I am dealing with the consequences of other people's choices and mistakes. Of course, I made my own choices. I played along with the idea that everything was fine. It was easier than acknowledging the truth. The center did not hold and things fell apart. None of the injuries suffered over time had healed properly, and we just kept spinning. 

There are moments when the universe forces me to look up and around. I see the spaces around me as they are, not as I want them to be. I want them to be comfortable and whole. They are generally neither. In those moments, I clearly see the sharp, little pieces flying by that threaten the things I hold most dear. I can't pretend anymore. It makes me brave enough to get started, removing one small piece at a time. I know I must deal with all the debris in my orbit, regardless of how it got there. 

I remember that taking responsibility for a mess and clearing it up, bit by bit, is genuinely hard but ultimately satisfying work. I am reminded that making progress feels good but when it’s done, it feels great. And that fighting inertia has a tendency to lighten that which gravity has held down. 


February 2017: The family crisis that prompted me to write this is ongoing. Good vibes and best wishes are appreciated. One commenter on Facebook noted that "dynamics are blasted apart by illness", which I am finding to be very true. My kiddos, husband, and I are all totally fine. I don't mean to be weird or vague or anything, but the specifics of this mess aren't mine to share. Just know that the situation truly and deeply sucks.

May 2017: My brother died unexpectedly at the age of 30. He had been in crisis for almost a year, a result of mental illness and substance abuse and (I believe) lingering, unresolved grief over the loss of his mother to breast cancer in 2008. He died of a pulmonary embolism. 

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2013-2017

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