Vicky Ewan: Our feet are planted firmly at the centres of our private universes

Vicky Ewan: Our feet are planted firmly at the centres of our private universes

Updated: 13 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes, 1 second ago

As the new year tightens its grip, I am in a reflective mood.

Last January, my mum was gravely ill, and we feared we would lose her. She recovered though - slowly - and it felt as though the time that followed, until her death in December, had been granted as some unexpected, wonderful bonus - at least, for her family.

My mum's brush with death highlighted the transience of earthly existence, and gave us the opportunity to re-evaluate her importance in our lives with wiser eyes.

I still took her for granted, of course; in fact, the very nature of her mortal entanglement and subsequent recovery did her a disservice, in some ways: it rendered her somehow invincible - and me foolishly cavalier. I know I will always regret not squeezing every last drop of her company from those 12 extra months.

I was, however, a little more mindful that she could conceivably leave us at any moment, and am glad to remember the special times we shared in the weeks before and during her stay in hospital - memories that are bittersweet and precious in the sharp focus of her death.

My own familial concerns in the great scheme of things, though, are infinitesimally minute, and this was never more obvious than when I watched a recent television programme entitled '2022: A year from space'.

I had seen its trailer advertised over the Christmas period and, intrigued, had set my TV box to record it to watch with my younger son in the new year.

Before a viewing opportunity presented itself, a friend of mine who had seen it roundly sang its praises. Fired up by her enthusiasm, I resolved to share it with the entire family, forging a plan for us to assemble in front of the television one recent weekend evening.

I invited my dad and brother to join us, and we settled down with a takeaway treat for 90 minutes of eye-opening entertainment.

The show relied upon satellite imagery, interspersing thousands of hours of space-based recording with footage of major events at ground level to produce an inspiring and literal overview of life on earth throughout the past year.

Some scenes were worrying: the amassing of military vehicles on the borders of Ukraine while rumours of war were yet routinely and robustly quashed.

Some were heartening: the recovery of large swathes of the Great Barrier Reef following expansive coral bleaching due to extreme weather temperatures, though sadly a large part remained affected.

We watched in fascination as the sea around British Columbia turned white from herring breeding's vast spawning, and gazed in consternation as the lights in Tigray slowly and sinisterly flickered out, a result of the civil war raging in the country.

The burning of seemingly unquenchable wildfires across California was terrifyingly visible, and the appearance of pilgrims visiting Mecca after the lifting of the pandemic restrictions, innumerable human shapes swirling around its central holiest shrine - the cube shaped Kaaba - was thrillingly apparent.

There were sobering shots: the appearance of mass graves in Ukraine; and joyful ones: the crowds thronging the Mall to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee.

We were enthralled by images unexpectedly identifying that, compelled to adapt by the ravaging of their familiar habitats due to climate change, king penguins have developed alternative colonies in Antarctica; and were shocked by disturbing pictures of lakes shrinking, rivers drying up, and grass scorched to a lifeless brown by the hottest of temperatures as the world sweltered under summer's pitiless gaze.

Perhaps, though, what was most poignant was the selection of soundbites from Ellen Ochoa, American astronaut, who had enjoyed a privileged view of our globe from space back in 1993.

She spoke captivatingly about her unique perspective, movingly describing how it had made her realise that everything and everyone that mattered to her was below her on our beautiful blue planet - yet she knew that lives and life on earth were being devastated by wars and hatred and prejudice, the scourge of humanity.

The program made compelling viewing, affording the average person unprecedented insight into global affairs, and was ultimately a humbling experience: gentle reminder that, though we might be inextricably caught up in the dramas of our own lives - dramas which often seem insurmountable - individually, we are merely miniscule examples of humanity scrabbling around on this mortal plain.

Until our feet stray to a worthier path, though, they are planted firmly at the centres of our private universes.

In the grand scheme of things, I am starkly aware that the pebble drop of my mum's life and death would cause barely a ripple in the world's vast ocean; in our small pond, however, the shock waves surge and surge, a relentless tsunami, visible from space.

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