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I’m just a cat sitting on the ledge of the universe

View out an airplane window

Picture by mgrenner57 used under Creative Commons license.

When I fly, it is inevitable that I start thinking about the meaning of life. No matter the airline or the destination, no matter the time zone or the country, when I look out an airplane window, my spirit soars with awe and my stomach sinks with terror. Looking down on our planet, I can see small square stamps called fields and narrow long lines called roads. The cars speeding down the highway look like ants slowly trudging across a desert. When I zoom out on the world like that, human civilization doesn’t look all that different from an ant colony or a bee hive or a bacterial growth. It makes me wonder, is there a life form out there that would look at our world and diagnose humanity as an odd and not that fascinating fungus?

Then I think of my cats, because I can always bring the subject back to my cats. Java Bean and Officer Krupke don’t know about the recent economic recession or the effects of global warming or the politics driving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their brains cannot conceive of these things, nor do I think they’d care if it was all explained to them. Krupke wants a bowl full of food and warm spot on the couch. Java Bean wants to play with the mouse toy and snuggle against my chest. They would rather catch bugs than catch Osama Bin Laden.

When I am zooming around in the atmosphere, it makes me wonder, am I the cat in someone else’s world? The universe is so, amazingly, fantastically, unimaginably big, and time goes on forever and ever or may not even really exist at all. I am never going to understand the universe. Yet I have no doubt that there is stuff going on that is very, very, important, that I will never, ever know about.

Looking down, this planet looks minuscule in comparison to all that exists, yet I can’t help but remember how complicated my little, everyday planet is. There are millions of transactions occurring in the global economy that require computers and instantaneous network connections to track. Creating a diagram of how my friends, family, and acquaintances are interconnected would take a complicated illustration with many circles and lines and dots. You do not even want to see all the digital clutter that is on my computer, expressed in zeros and ones, that would feel like an amputation of my brain if it was lost, yet means less than nothing to the other six billion residents of this planet.

All of those things are so complicated and necessary to make our lives run, but when I’m flying over the planet, they seem as distant and untouchable as the processes that go on in my cells every second to keep me alive. I know about mitochondria and cell division and glycogen, but I don’t understand how everything in my body works together to be this thing that is my body and my consciousness and perhaps my soul. I don’t know what will happen when I die, but I have my hunches. For now, all I know is that I want a refrigerator stocked with food, people to love, and a cozy seat on the airplane, right next to the window.

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Susan • November 24, 2009 at 10:51 am

You are great.


MB • November 24, 2009 at 11:02 am

It boggles the mind when we stop to think how small our world is in the big scheme of things.

I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the flight!


Shannon • November 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

I love how you wrote this, especially the line about being a cat in someone’s universe. It’s an interest concept to think, but it’s true-the world and its systems are so much larger than we think. Thanks for the insightful post :)


Monica Ulbricht • November 24, 2009 at 11:20 am

Girl….no wonder you have a Chronic Headache!! You think too much! :)


Lainey • November 24, 2009 at 11:55 am

I think like this, too, but I don’t think I could express it as eloquently.

Throw in quantum physics and the multiverse theory and my head wants to explode. The worst part is that I want to know. I want so badly to know what the “big picture” of the universe is, and I never will. Drives me ’round the bend if I let it.


Johanna • November 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Best post ever!!


Quix • November 24, 2009 at 6:50 pm

It’s really easy to forget just how small we are. Great post. Loved it.

I always just think about playing the sims when I look out, wishing I could click on houses and start messing with people’s days and see what they’re doing. Yes, I have a psych degree… :)


Ellen • November 24, 2009 at 7:14 pm

What a poetic and thoughtful post – A great way for me to transition from work to home today! Puts things in perspective. Thanks, PQ :)


Ritamae • November 24, 2009 at 10:58 pm

I haven’t visited your web-site in a while. I love this post. That’s exactly how I feel when I fly and when I think about life!


Deanna - The Unnatural Mother • November 25, 2009 at 12:18 am

Well said.


Early • November 25, 2009 at 3:39 am

You amaze me. a lot.

Your posts always make me think; and I’m always amazed by the deductions you make from what most other people wouldn’t even give a second thought to (or even commit any thought to in the first place)!


dietgirl • November 25, 2009 at 8:44 am

Fabulous :) I’ve always loved that about planes… enforced perspective. Everything seems okay up there, apart from the crappy pretzels.


K • November 25, 2009 at 9:51 am

This might be my favourite of your posts! Elegant, thought-provoking, wise.

I love looking down from planes and imagining what’s happening down there, but I couldn’t have written this.


JN • November 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Congrats on the article about you in the Washington Post yesterday!


sian-girlgetstrong • November 25, 2009 at 5:33 pm

we are all just shells of exsistence and easily break-love that picture-happy thanksgiving to you!


Liz D. • December 1, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I know this post is like _old_ (in digital time, that is) but I am just reading it and I have to comment. This is such a gorgeous post. You wonderfully express some ideas I have had in my head at one time or another, as well as new expansions on those old ideas. I just loved it. Thanks, lady.


Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog at JennetteFulda.com.

Man looking into telescope

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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