Having recently turned 44 and having enough life experience to look back upon and wonder in what way I will leave my mark upon this world, I can truly say that joining the AAA within the previous year is the culmination of my life up unto this point. That is not a statement I make lightly nor to curry favor with anyone (Ok, maybe Neil Tyson, if he happens to read this). Rather, AAA stands for my belief system as it currently is.
Having grown up in New York and having lived in the city my entire life exposed me to varied cultures and beliefs that rival any tapestry anywhere else in the world. When I was in my teenage years, two things happened to me that steered me in new directions – I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease, and I was bitten by the travel bug. Both of these life-altering diagnoses had profound impacts upon me in many different ways, with one significant appulse. Boy was I humbled. Crohns robbed me of my confidence. And traveling restored it. But it was restored in a manner different than that which I had it as a youth. I became confident enough in myself to navigate through different cultures and societies yet realized that coming from the United States and New York in particular, I was immediately given a leg-up in many ways in comparison to so many people in other parts of the world, as far as expectations and creature comforts.
As I entered my 20s, I attended law school, and battled with Crohns, and then was married, and continued traveling, and then divorced, and continued traveling, and switched jobs, and battled Crohns, and continued traveling, and so on and so on. A few steps forward and a few steps back. That is life.
And as I entered my 30s and continued to mature and become wiser (I hope), I would make new revelations about myself and where I fit into the world. I could only control Crohns disease so much, but those moments when I could, I took full advantage of. I was also always a big movie buff and in particular greatly admired the Indiana Jones character. At one point I acquired what I lovingly call my ‘Indy Hat’ and make sure to wear it when I embark upon one of my far-flung trips to an off the beaten path location where I will be trekking through a desert, or through a ravine, or staying in a hut with no running water or electricity.
But through all of these things, there was always something nagging at me that I could not quite put my finger on. And then about ten years ago, in my mid-30s, it hit me. Crohns Disease, like most autoimmune diseases is replete with questions about its cause and cure, with few answers. And for years I had been observing people around the world being suspect of other people from other countries, even if from an immediate neighboring country. To top off these observations, here in the United States, scientists were presenting data on Global Warming, and being discredited by people with no training in any field related to science. As such, my reaction to the confluence of these 3 events was to delve deeper. Find the truth. Understand why humanity so often reacts in illogical ways. Revel in fact and forego fiction. In short, find the logical and scientific causes and cures.
My childhood fascination with dinosaurs and archeology came seething to the surface. I began to seek as much literature about those two topics as I could get my hands on. And slowly, I began to realize that while dinosaurs and archeology will always be of interest to me, my interests had also evolved as I had grown. I came to realize that humanity’s quest to understand antiquities of either an animal or material nature were all rooted in the same question. The same question that people ask about why they are afflicted with a disease. The same question that people ask of their neighbors: Why is this my life? Why are you different than me? Why are we here? Why?
If the most basic question starts with ‘Why’, then one has to travel back in time to understand how things have begun. My eyes turned to the sky with these thoughts and my rudimentary understanding of the cosmos at the time was enough to posit that humanity could never be whole unless it understood its true origins. The origins of not only our species, but the planet on which we live, the solar system in which we exist, the galaxy of which we are but a diminutive dot, and the universe as a whole.
I have now dealt with Crohns Disease for over 20 years and learned to control it and not let it control me. I have traveled to almost 70 countries. I have met people from countless cultures and seen wonders of this planet on land, sea, and air. I have traveled to the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile to meet astronomers who are uniting nations with the common goal of understanding human origins. I have been in the Australian Outback and observed the ivory band of the Milky Way galaxy slice through a billion twinkling stars.
And the Amateur Astronomy Association of New York has allowed me to meet like-minded people who question ‘Why’ with an open mind and a quest for the answer that only science can provide. Lectures are vibrant. Classes are informative. I could not imagine a better way to celebrate life than to have stars above, information in front of me, and the fellowship of members of an organization who want nothing more than to share facts and knowledge that unite humankind.
I hope that the AAA represents something meaningful to everyone reading this and that each of you share these experiences with others in your life. I have learned from traveling that many people in this world do not have opportunities or access to true education and when that opportunity is presented, it is to be cherished.