Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

A Personal New Year Message to Carl Sagan

By Don Beaudreau

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twinkle little star


We at Lakeside and around the world are about to complete one year and begin another one. It is something we “humans” have been doing for half a million years. Indeed, we are time travelers. And yet, we are writing only the first letter in the first word of our journey. We could have 10 million times the time we already have had.

Furthermore, before we showed up, the universe of space and time had begun—15 billion years earlier. And yet, 15 billion years is not that long ago, compared to the years to come!

My favorite nursery song sums up my inability to absorb the enormity of all this: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star/How I wonder what you are!

It is a question I ask myself even more frequently than I did when I was younger. When I take my early morning walk along the shores of this ancient Lake called Chapala, and look up at the sky and see all those twinkling stars, I want to imagine they are my friends who have died.

At any rate, Carl Sagan, who died in 1996, and whose sister I knew, is someone who helped to fashion my own beliefs. So I want to share my letter to him with you at Lakeside during the turning of the year.


Dear Carl Sagan, Wherever You Are in the Cosmos,

Thank you for bringing poetry (that is to say, a sense of wonder and mystery and creative fancy) and science (that is to say, a recognition of facts proven through repeated experiments) together.

Thank you for advancing Albert Einstein’s words to us about exploring the universe we live in when he advised: “Never lose a holy curiosity.”

For certainly you, Carl, never lost your holy curiosity. And you helped us create our own sense of this. Millions of us remember your television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage on PBS in 1980, when you discussed the beginning of the universe. How you would ascend a staircase and open up various doors to reveal different time sequences in our universe’s history. How, as you climbed higher on those stairs, you went further and further back in time, all the while getting closer and closer to the very creation of the universe itself.

And how, when you finally reached that magic door—the one at the very top of the staircase—you continued to keep us in suspense as you went on and on and on about all the things most of us did not know concerning when and how our infinitesimal universe came about.

And then, when we thought you were finally going to open the magic door, and thereby reveal the very mystery of creation—something no one had been able to do before, as if behind that very door there was the Prime Mover him-her-itself; just when we thought the puzzle of our very existence was going to be solved and you, Sagan, were the man to do it, you refused to open the door!!

Thanks a lot, Carl! (I say this to you with tongue in cheek!)

“Not yet,” you said, or something like that; something all scientific and matter-of fact-like. “Not yet, but some day…some day we’ll know.”

I then expected you to say, all television-like, “Stay tuned for next week’s coming attractions,” but you didn’t. All you said was “Some day.”

You, Sagan, the quintessential scientist, ever-expecting to break through to the origin of the mysterious.

Truly, millions of us will never forget that night of high drama—those of us who, like yours truly, still are trying to figure out why an egg boils, as well as those geniuses who read about quantum physics with all that “stuff” about quarks and neutrinos and black holes, as if they were reading the Dick and Jane and Spot books some of us read in Kindergarten.

“Neutrinos?” To some of us it sounded like a place where we can get a pretty good pizza!

So thank you, dear Carl Sagan, for bringing even us oafs into a keener sense of appreciation for the fact of scientific discovery. It is because of you and your magic door, that life will never be the same again for many of us.

So, I do hope that wherever you are, twinkling star or not, that you have finally discovered the secrets of the universe.


One of Your Biggest Fans, Even If I Am an Oaf


Indeed, all of us, at some time or another in our lives, might benefit by getting into a “Sagan state of mind.” It really is a good thing to contemplate the mysteries of the universe: the possible why and how we are here in the first place; the sense of the timelessness of it all! Doing this is a way in which we might move beyond the difficulties of today’s world and begin to see ourselves as part of a larger context: as part of all creation; as part of all “time.”

Just imagine having copy of the “National Geographic Magazine” I once had in my hands. There you are on a matter-of-fact day in your life when you have stopped for a moment to relax from the ordinary affairs of your existence; and you have paused to leaf through that magazine with those articles about fascinating places in the world and with exquisite photos, too! But then you have an unexpected a-ha! moment, when you come upon a piece about the origin of the universe.

Now, as exotic as some places on our planet might be, how much more exotic can the universe itself be!

So, similar to feeling that Carl Sagan will finally reveal the secrets about the biggest of all existential questions when he opens the magic door, you almost reverently begin to read the magazine article and to look at the “depictions” (they are not really photographs because these are things we have not seen with telescopes: stars and planets and galaxies and universes we are only guessing about).

And in the midst of all that star-studded space, there you see it: way down there in a little corner of this one large “depiction” – our tiny, tiny solar system, a mere dot amidst all that pulsating solar geography.

“How insignificant we are!” you think. “How insignificant I am!” And you remember the times when you have gone outside at night, and being far from the lights of a city, you have looked up into that starry, starry night, and wondered, wondered, the stardust within you resonating for a brief moment of eternity with the stardust out there, and out there. To know that what we are is linked to those galaxies beyond our galaxy, the universes beyond our universe.

Saying this, let me suggest how we might approach being in time, realizing along with Ben Hecht that “Time is ever a circus, always packing up and moving away”—that we can never keep the moment, but must let it go, let go and grasp on to the next one and the one after that, until we finally must let go of all time, and be blended into timelessness itself.

First, let us, indeed, realize that each of us is caught up in the continuity of all existence, not just human, not just earthly; that we are part of all past, present and future; that from star stuff we came and back to star stuff we go, to swirl among the supernovas and neutrinos. Time is a gift to be used or abused.

For after all, if each of us is part of one another; and all of us are part of all that ever was, is and shall be. Think about how, in the time “we” have left – an estimated million million years, we might yet get it right!


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