Reflections on Space (Thoughts from the NASA Visitor Center)

“Scientists know more about outer space than the ocean floor.”

Even when I heard that fact as a kid, I didn’t believe it. It doesn’t make any sense. The ocean is so close. Space reaches out farther than anyone can imagine.

But—I can also remember a time, when I knew other women’s bodies better than my own. Call it envy or attraction; I couldn’t tell the difference back then. I kept an account of all the ways other women existed: my friends and their long hair, other dancers and their stone-cut calves, older girls and their unblemished skin. Meanwhile, I couldn’t look at myself up-close in the mirror. I remember a night when I stood in a bathroom with the lights off, a shag bathmat beneath my feet. Even in the dark, I couldn’t bear to observe my own outline. Even if I had bothered to look, I probably wouldn’t have seen a clear picture of what was there. My reflection always came out distorted. This is proof that proximity is not the same as knowledge.

When I say that I used to feel like I took up too much space, I don’t know how to explain the feeling in any other words. I know this is another sentiment that doesn’t add up. We can’t even see the edge of space. We can’t fathom where it expires. How can somebody take up too much of something that is infinite? Even if I relaxed my belly and stretched my limbs, I wouldn’t make a dent.

Perhaps it was self-indulgent to ever think of my body as significant—or perhaps the problem was that I didn’t see my body as significant enough.

All I know is that gravity is cruel. It pulls us back into what we cannot escape. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop thinking about my body, and by default, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop writing about my body. I hate to admit that sometimes I am tired of my own dialogue.

I don’t hate my body anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m free from it. I have other things to write about, but I can’t shake their ties to my form. I only experience love as love in relation to my body. Food as food in relation to my body. Gender in relation to my body. Joy in relation to my body. Pain in relation to my body. Gravity pulls everything else inward.

I gave up a long time ago on trying to think of my body and myself as separate entities. The universe was made from a collision, and so was I. I cannot pull myself apart from my body any more than I can let gravity go.

Inside the museum, there was a piece of the moon—a little rock, slightly bigger than the size of my own fist. I stood next to the chunk, and wondered if it noticed its own heaviness on Earth. Weight—unlike knowledge—is a matter of proximity.

“How do we really know this is a rock from the moon?” A woman next to me questioned. “This could just be taken from any old volcano.”

Her doubt made the temperature drop. I wanted to protect the rock. I wanted to send it back into space. I don’t care what the skeptics say: wherever the moon-rock came from, it is a fact that the rock was lighter when it was farther away from the spectacle of its little glass case.

I want to believe the rock had a life away from this sort of gravity.

I am not sure of what sort of comparison I am trying to draw. Maybe we would appreciate our bodies more if we could watch them from a distance. Maybe it’s a conflict of proximity again. Perhaps our bodies are so hard to understand because they are about as close to ourselves as we can get.

When the moon is 200,000 miles away, we are sure it is the moon. When it is inches away, we are suddenly full of reservation.

I wonder how we would look at our bodies if we could see them from 200,000 miles away. I’m willing to bet they’d look a lot like moonlight.

If I ever have a daughter, and if she ever wants to feel weightless—the same way I once did—I think I will tell her to become an astronaut. She will learn that there is enough space for herself. She will see it so clearly without gravity drawing her in.

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