By Natalie Novak, VI Form
A Whole Universe Is Out There with Bigger Stuff To Deal With Than My Broken Phone
Editors’ Note: This is Natalie’s chapel speech, spoken to the community on 29 January 2016.
Sarah: A reading from Life of Pi by Yann Martel
“I saw my suffering for what it was, finite and insignificant, and I was still. My suffering did not fit anywhere, I realized. And I could accept this. It was all right. It was daylight that brought my protest: No! No! No! My suffering does matter. I want to live! I can’t help but mix my life with that of the universe. Life is a peephole, a single tiny entry onto a vastness – how can I not dwell on this brief, cramped view I have of things? This peephole is all I’ve got!”
Kat: A reading from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy by Douglas Adams
“In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.”
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Natalie Novak. Also known as Natalie Novak. And if this still isn’t ringing any bells, I’m also the girl who threw up in chapel her freshman year. For all you freshmen that are afraid you’re gonna embarrass yourselves, I’m here to tell you that people forget about those things fairly quickly. Until they remember a year or so down the road, and then they never forget. So, my advice to you is, if you need to make a quick escape go out that door because this one is harder to open.
Anyway, I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today. I’d like to to talk to you about the universe, everything in it, and how you’re all basically irrelevant specks of dust in relation to what we consider to be the cosmos and space-time continuum. Sound good?
No, it doesn’t. And I know it doesn’t. Because no one likes to be told that they aren’t the center of the universe. In the words of Douglas Adams, “If there is anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” Let’s face it, we humans love attention. We are inherently narcissistic. And that includes me! Why else would I be up here? To give you some words of wisdom I picked up through the years? I mean yeah sure, but c’mon, who doesn’t enjoy 15 minutes of fame and a chance to show off how clever they think they are?
But honestly you guys, and I’m gonna be 100% real with you right now, in the grand scheme of things, I really don’t matter. And this speech doesn’t really matter. Like, at all. Nothing we do today, or tomorrow, or in our lifetime, will have any impact on the universe. Even if you find the cure to cancer or stop world hunger. Do you really think that what happens on this planet makes any overarching difference in the whole universe? Do you have any idea how big the universe is?
Sure, finding the cure to cancer or solving world hunger makes a drastic impact on Earth. But that’s just Earth. Have you ever seen one of those pictures of the Milky Way with an arrow pointing at a microscopic dot saying, “You are here”? Imagine that 10x bigger, and then 10x bigger again. And that doesn’t even begin to show how insignificant we are.
I promise there’s a bright side here. But we’re not there yet. So bear with me for a moment.
Let’s say you do something utterly humiliating, like oh, I don’t know, throw up during silent prayer. You’re totally bummed, right? Completely mortified. Because things didn’t go your way this time. So you probably start recalling every bad thing that’s happened in the past month, which you’re not even upset about anymore, and think, “Ugh, why do bad things always happen to me? Why can’t I just have one win?”
And to that, all I have to say is, Oh no, you poor tortured soul. I’m sorry things didn’t play out how you wanted them to, honestly, I feel for you. But get it together. You wouldn’t be complaining about not having any wins unless this one loss happened!
I promise you that most people in this room have believed, that on a given day, their day was worse than anyone else’s. Of course, there could be some exceptions where you probably did have the worst day, but most of the time it’s the same stuff repeated through different mouths. And I do it all the time. “Ugh, god. I’m sick, and I didn’t get enough sleep, and I got a bad grade on my econ test. Ugh, I’m having the worst day ever.” Ask my friends. They’ll testify to hearing this all the time.
But the thing is, in those moments, I disregard everyone’s feelings but my own. I genuinely believe I’m having a worse day than everyone around me. But what if the person I’m complaining to feels that they’re entitled to more complaining than me? And forget the people around me, what about everyone else in the world? My problems are nothing compared to some people. You don’t think they need a win? How can I be so self centered, when there’s a whole universe out there with bigger stuff to deal with than my broken phone?
And before I go any further, I want it on record that this isn’t some speech where I tell you to drop all your problems and help the less fortunate. I can’t talk about how rewarding it is to help kids in a different country or work at a soup kitchen because I’ve never done any of that! I’m sure it would be a wonderful speech, but that’s someone else’s story to tell. I’m here to remind you of your placement in the universe. Furthermore, why that knowledge is useful. Sometimes it’s a relief to put things in perspective.
For example, whenever something horrible happens and you just wanna cry or give up and don’t know where to turn, really remind yourself of how much else is going on up there. And I don’t mean down here. I’m not saying belittle your problems because other people have it worse. I mean up there, in galaxies far, far away. Go to NASA’s image gallery, take a walk through the woods, look at the stars, I don’t know! Do something to get a different perspective. I’m telling you, if people sat outside and looked at the sky every night, I bet they’d live a lot differently. When you look into infinity, you realize there are more important things than what people do all day.
Now by this point, I’m sure you’re thinking that this whole speech is complete BS, and with my logic, you should all drop out and become hermits. Now I’m not saying you should, I’m asking why you don’t. It’s pretty interesting to explore the question of why we get up and go to class everyday, even though we know how short lived and small our existence is.
But like I said earlier, no one likes to be told they aren’t the center of the universe. No one wants to be told that their problems don’t matter and that they might as well not exist. I mean, I like myself. I think I’m pretty cool. At least my mom says I am.Why aren’t I worth my own self-pity?
See this is where the brighter side comes in. And it’s the polar opposite of what I’ve been talking about so far.
This way of looking at things requires a much shorter argument because it doesn’t need much defending and could probably be done in a paragraph, which it will be. In short, we experience the universe through ourselves. All I know of this great expanding thing is what I’ve experienced of it, so it does kinda actually revolve around me. I don’t know about your thoughts or experiences, I only know about mine. And as a result, I’m a pretty big deal in my version of the universe. Why shouldn’t I be upset over a bad grade if that’s important to me? Sure, it could be a speck of dust in the universe, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. Through my perspective, I need this to contribute to my total average so I can get into the school I want. So don’t tell me it’s not a big deal, because to me it is. My universe revolves around the things in my life, and so I’m allowed to be upset when things don’t go my way. I’m the most important thing in my life. I can be upset or happy about anything I want because this is the only lens I have into the universe.
See, I told you it didn’t need much defending. Like I said, humans are inherently self-centered, but you know what, if it’s inherent then it must service a purpose. I doubt the cavemen placed the greater universe above their need for food.
So what am I getting at? We’re completely insignificant but at the same time we’re super important? We’re right where we started, just more hungry and confused.
I’m gonna take the easy way out and say that I didn’t plan for this speech to have a conclusion. I see it more as advice, from me to you. Use these two views to your advantage. Play around with them when you’re happy or upset, and see how they make you feel. Sometimes I comfort myself by remembering how small I am, and other times I let myself feel sad. I celebrate my wins, and other times I stay humble. It’s all about what works in the moment. If one doesn’t, switch to the other. You’ll be amazed at how much more useful it is to have two perspectives rather than one. That’s my advice.
And for those you who still feel as though you have gained nothing from my ramblings, I give you all full permission to use my speech and it’s message as an excuse to get out of going to class or doing your homework. My apologies to the administration.
Natalie Novak is a VI Form day student from Southborough, MA. She enjoys thinking, reading, and discussing all across the curriculum.