Sometimes when I’m lying in bed and can’t sleep I like to picture myself. I see my body sprawled over my mattress, limbs dangling from under the doona. I see my chest rise and fall, and each strand of my mess of hair splayed across my pillow. I picture the room around me, the carpeted floor, the dresser, and myself, a living thing in the centre.
Then I go higher.
The point of view rises through my ceiling until I’m floating over my roof. The corrugated aluminium slopes away and I can see the small square of backyard, half concrete, half fake grass. I hover there a moment looking at my small world, the section I have claimed as my own, the space marked out to house me and my small dramas, then I rise higher.
I see my street, the stretch of asphalt and the homes clinging to either side like ants around a sweet. I see trees haphazardly scattered amongst the buildings, their broad halo of branches overlapping the assortment of roofs. Each house is a bordering ecosystem full of a complex tangle of lives and love and arguments to which I am oblivious.
And then higher, and I’m looking at my suburb, a spider web of bitumen and concrete, a heaving sea of houses, and the thin dark line of a river weaving lazily through the human habitation, a remnant of the natural state of the land. My neighbourhood. The eclectic mix of culture and ethnicity, of personalities. The unchosen community to which I belong.
And the city is a glowing, blinking spread of star-dust, a breathtaking testament to electricity. And it extends on and on, and every light is an indication of a spark of life, a human presence. And my dot of a home is lost like a grain of sand on the beach, but I am in that mass, somewhere, lying on my bed.
But I’m still too connected so I go higher.
The city recedes below me as earth rushes in to fill my periphery until I’m so far above it I see the shape of the country, the weight of land so large it bends around the globe. And the twinkling evidence of mankind is painted around the edges of the continent in a multitude that is hard to comprehend. From this height the scope of human life isn’t minimised, it’s maximised, as our touch can still be seen outside the earth that contains us. The endless miles of unfurled cities, the days of unbroken red desert, the unlimited expanse of beach that rings the country like ribbon are all details too tiny to make out. I know if I was to drop back down I would find a swarming hive of life but from here it’s soft blends of browns and greens smeared across a paint palette.
The rush of my rising blurs the edges as I go higher.
And it’s the world. A spinning blue orb drifting in empty black, a tilted ball scrawled with all the evidence of our history. The cut out of continents meandering across its surface and the eons of evolution written in its soil. One half glows, a chaos of colour, of landscape and oceanscape. The other is draped in shadow, its back to the sun, the side of our planet that sleeps. It is a concentrated atom of life and living and it carries every act of existence on the surface of its skin.
Higher now and planets are whizzing away from me, whisked out of focus from the speed of my upshot.
And I’m adrift in a smear of stars, of electric blues and acid greens, of neon violets and throbbing reds, and white, blazing between drifting clouds of gas that traps the light like it’s swallowed it. The belly of the galaxy is heat and colour, the artwork of the gods. And one of those pinpricks is our sun, the titan of devouring roiling fire, the endless burning source of life, the marker of time and the original deity, reduced to a glint among gems, a single flash in a streak of glitter. The Milky Way is a cosmic ocean of tumultuous energy, its scope outside my ability to hold for more than a second.
But there’s more to go, and I soar higher.
And I’m looking down at a jumble of glowing shapes, our galaxy now just one more marble amongst spheres of speckled light, spiralling lines of linked suns whose reach is beyond human measuring. I float above the collected mass of nebulas and galaxies surrounded by the cold infinity of the universe. I am a child in a dark pool without edges, the entirety of all raging life at my feet. I could go higher into the fathomless breadth of existence but I am at the edge of my knowledge, so I stop, and look down, into everything.
And somewhere down there, through the clouds of stars, through light-years of sheer space, though a dense fog of burning orbs to a handful of planets is one tiny blue and green dot circling one tiny orange sun, and somewhere, all the way down the other end of the telescope, is me. A speck on an electron. A wink of life sprawled on a mattress, entirely overlooked by the universe at large, chewing over my pathetic worries.
I picture this, and feel my mind ease, and sleep.