Do you remember a time as a kid when you laid on your back in the grass, head pressed to the earth, staring up? Maybe you watched clouds sail by in the afternoon. Perhaps you counted the stars as they appeared, one by one, in the night sky. (I assume all children of my generation and previous ones did this, given a) the amount of free time allotted us; b) the boredom baked into childhood before the advent of ubiquitous digital technology; and c) the fact that kids are just closer to the ground than adults—it's a shorter trip for them.)
The part that I recall most vividly was not the imagineering of shapes in the sky—seeing cloud elephants and she-bears made of stars—but closing my eyes and feeling the Earth move. And I'm not referring to the pounding feet of the neighborhood kids as they thundered past me, spread out on the lawn; or seismic tremors; or garbage trucks bouncing in the potholes on 28th Avenue. I'm talking planetary and interstellar motion here, the dual action of the world turning on its axis and hurtling through space at 67,000 miles per hour. (What my seven-year-old self-did not know was that there is greater motion still, larger wheels turning as we ride along on Spaceship Earth. Consider this: Our solar system spins around the center of the Milky Way at 490,000 miles per hour. Outside of that, the Milky Way and other nearby galaxies are rushing at the unfathomable speed of 621 miles per second toward the Great Attractor, a region of space roughly 150 million light-years away from us. The galaxies better pump their brakes before they get there.)
It must have been science class, or perhaps Carl Sagan talking about it on TV that prompted the desire to feel the motion of the planet. Undoubtedly, it was explained to me that despite the incredible speeds we're traveling at, we cannot actually detect the Earth moving because we are all moving with it. (This screwed up the ancients, who noticed the heavenly bodies above us moving but detected no motion on Earth and thus concluded the Earth was the center of the cosmos. Seems silly now, but based on the available evidence, I would have made the same mistake. That's why we have experts.)
My experiment to feel the motion of the Earth was simple: Lie down on the ground, arms and legs outstretched, sink into the grass, become as heavy as my 75 pounds allowed, and feel. Really feel. Like one of those saints Sister Daria taught us about, the kind who so keenly felt the love of God it was like a holy fire burning inside them. Now, it should be known that I was an especially intelligent and perceptive child. Everyone thought so. (Except Mrs. Guildersleeve, my third-grade teacher, who believed I was fomenting rebellion in her classroom with comments made under my breath. I was just mumbling. The aging Amazon was four times my size and frightened the snot out of me.)
Trying to feel the Earth's motion was tricky. Lying there on the ground, I was clenching the grass with exertion, desperately trying to feel it. This went on for ages—about 10 minutes or so, me trying to will it to happen—until I became exhausted. Luckily, I was already on the ground, so I didn't fall over. And there was nothing to do but relax. I thought of the charmingly out-of-whack-yet-kid-scale illustrations by Antoine de Saint-Exupery from The Little Prince; how small the planets were and how big the golden-curled young man was. Surely the Little Prince could feel both the turning of his asteroid as well as well its velocity as it bobbed along in space. (Of course, the fact that the Little Prince escapes his home via a flock of migrating birds would indicate that the planet wasn't traveling all that fast.) I imagined myself like the Little Prince, arms almost long enough to curve around the sides of a small planet.
And then something simple yet extraordinary happened. I asked myself: What would it feel like to feel the turning of the Earth? And I thought: It would feel imperceptible yet inexorable; ungraspable and mystical. (Seven-year-old Brian didn't use those words exactly, but you get the idea. I was operating in an intuitive space slightly ahead of my own vocabulary.)
So, I tried that.
Eyes closed, limbs akimbo, I pretended to feel the world spin. And guess what? It worked, sort of—my fingertips tingled, I saw lava lamp-like blobs floating under my eyelids, I had a floaty feeling. One could say that I experienced an ecstatic reverie, tapped in to the flow state at the heart of the universe. It was wonderful. Not wonderful like the taste of an ice cream bar, but wonderful as in full of wonder that I could co-create my own consciousness. And perhaps a storyteller was born in that moment.
Then it passed, and I got up and played Wiffle ball for the rest of the afternoon like nothing happened.
With the arrival of the new year, I've been thinking quite a bit about what I might do differently in 2018, how I could mix things up a little. (Those who know me surely have a long list of suggestions as to how I might improve myself.) The majority of new year's resolutions are discarded before the end of January. Here's one I hope I can keep: To stay curious and be open to wonder.