As you probably heard earlier this month, The Transit of Venus – the astronomical event where Venus passes the sun, allowing Earthpersons to see the Venusian silhouette breach and cross the solar orb – is an event that will be the last of all of our lifetimes, as the next one is in 2117. The popular newsmedia made a big deal out of the finality of this thing, making sure to remind everyone that their life is temporary and the world and universe will continue to move around without you.
In the weeks preceding the Transit, I was coincidentally reading a book that features the 1700s Transits heavily. The book was Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, a historical fiction about the guys who surveyed the line they named after themselves. It’s pretty much American history fanfiction, but awesome. The novel documents the 18th century Transit (and its importance) very well. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon do some kind of sciency stuff tracking the Transit, and become BFF’s in the process. Then there’s a talking dog, but whatever, it’s Pynchon, that’s what he does. The novel really upped the importance of the Transit for me, creating an aura of mythological importance around the event, even though its just a stupid dot going across the sun. Imagine being alive centuries ago and having no idea what that dot was; simply wondering (worrying, maybe) about the strange object crossing the sun. Today, when the Transit is “known” and predicted way in advance, you have the knowledge that, if you got to see it, you were watching it along with an uncountable amount of other people. Tons and tons of people all doing the same thing at the same time, that’s special.
Unfortunately for many, the Transit was easy to miss. For me personally, it was clouds that did me in, I couldn’t see the sun at all. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of it. Many people were stuck at work, or surrounded by high buildings. How can you reconcile missing a once-in-a-lifetime event? Watching NASA’s webcam doesn’t really cut it.
As a culture we put a lot of importance into these rare astronomical events, upping the value of seeing something that you aren’t likely to be able to see again. You can’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime event! It’s once-in-a-lifetime.
Why not create our own once-in-a-lifetime events? Yeah, sure, the Transit of Venus is literally astronomical in scale, but its only something that really “matters” from our world’s perspective. And I mean perspective in terms of social perspective and visual perspective. To most spots in the solar system, the Transit is meaningless, as in you can’t see Venus passing the Sun. I mean, on Saturn everything is meaningless, because there’s no life, and consciousness creates meaning, but that’s another listicle.
Here’s my list of cool ways you can create once-in-a-lifetime events yourself, some of them are even astronomical!
1. Watch the sun set twice!
Surprisingly easy. You need to find an open field or beach, somewhere where you have a very clear view of the horizon. Get there around sunset, and lie on your belly and watch the sun set. Then quickly stand up, and you can watch the sun set again! It’s physics! If you’re all like, science-knowing and mathy and stuff, you can use the amount of time it takes the sun to set “again” and your height to calculate the circumference of the Earth! Just don’t ask me how. Guy who is good at math and/or science and writer of webcomic XKCD, Randal Munroe, explains it scientifically.
Even cooler, if you watch the sun set at the foot of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, then take their superfast elevator to the top floor, the sun sets a full 2-3 minutes after it did on the ground! This change is so drastic that people observing religious fasting who live on the top floor have to fast an extra 3 minutes more than everyone else!
2. Mastermind a flashmob.
Yes, I agree, flashmobs were already annoying in 2008. They still work for my intended purpose here. You can create a significant event—a large group of people getting together and doing something stupid–very easily, and it will be once-in-a-lifetime. 500 people singing “Call Me, Maybe” in Penn Station will only happen once, ever, and you can make it happen! Sure, Venus is bigger than a big group of people, but perspective-wise from Earth, my hand is bigger than the stupid sun and Venus (Sean 1-Sun 0)!!
3. Improvise a recipe, forget what you did.
Food is awesome. Eating it, making it, looking at it. Food is just the best. If you like to cook, and you like to eat, you can create a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience simply by screwing around in the kitchen. If you’ve been cooking for long enough, you instinctively know the best proportions to put in things, and what order to put ‘em in. Go to your local farmer’s market and buy a bunch of veggies, meats, cheeses, whatever looks good, then go home and improvise yourself a feast! Just have fun and improvise and try new things, remembering to NOT remember what you’re doing. You’ll hopefully come out with something delicious, and you’ll be able to savor it even more considering that its the only time that meal will ever exist! And you (and your friends!) are the only persons to ever enjoy it. You know what Venus can’t do? Make kick-ass pork chops with a great side salad, butternut squash soup, and mashed potatoes!
4. Settle for the Transit of Mercury.
Eh. It’ll do. These happen like, all the time. The next one is in 2016. Mercury’s the worst. Right guys? I gotta write about that in my planetary slam book.
5. Cloud formations, crowd formations.
When you idly sit and watch clouds pass by, you have to remember that those exact clouds will never exist again. That totally random configuration of water vapor will never randomly configure that way again. Ever. That one that “totally looks like a unicorn!” only exists in the now. It never existed before, and will never exist again. That’s magical. The same is true of a big crowd of people. Go to the top of a skyscraper in a city, and watch the people below going about their days, as they seethe in and out, creating formations that only exist for a moment. Why are any of these events less significant for observation than the Transit? It all comes down to being mindful, and appreciating the world around you. Anything can be as incredible as a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event if you observe it in the right way. A fun exercise that’s helped me appreciate the world around me: wake up every day and look at the real world the same way you watched the first time you saw an HDTV. Marvel at everything. For the fellow vision-impaired: look at the world in the same way you did the first day you got glasses. Everything will be clearer.
You know what’s once-in-a-lifetime? Your lifetime! You only exist once, everything you consider your “self”–your body, your mind, your senses–is only temporary. Just have fun and be, and appreciate the great thing that you’ve been given: existence! Much like a cloud, a crowd of people, or Venus, you are simply a collection of different pieces temporarily being held together. A bunch of molecules were just all like “Hey guys, what if we got together and made, you know, like people or whatever?” And then there were people. And then there was you. I mean, sure, that’s a simplification of the origin of life, but I’m sure you get where I’m going with this. The fact that we exist is such a grand coincidence, that to not appreciate it every day is almost as absurd as the fact that we exist in the first place. You’re once-in-a-lifetime. And that’s awesome.