Five Seconds

(photo via

(photo via

A few years ago, while in the waiting room of my dentist, I saw a photograph. It was in National Geographic and part of a series of shots taken by the Hubble telescope. Called "Deep Field", the shot had a black background with whitish swirling dots. It was not very impressive. In fact it didn't look like much at all. That was until I read the caption. "Deep Field" was taken in an area of the sky approximately the size of a dime held at 75 feet. It was shot in the darkest part of space that scientists could see from earth. A place of apparent nothingness and black. However, when the photograph came back what they found was extraordinary. In the photo were 1,500 galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars and billions of planets. 

In reading that caption about the galaxies, and staring at the image of those swirling lights, it suddenly became crystal clear to me how big the universe actually was. I was awed, and as a consequence I began to experience a sense of clarity and wonder I'd never felt before. All of a sudden I got how big this whole damn shooting match really is. What came next was quite surprising. Suddenly everything just got real big and real calm. In fact it got so big and calm, that I wasn't able to hold the idea or feeling for longer than five seconds. Too big for my brain, it was gone. Lasting about as long as a shooting star. Once this moment had passed, this feeling of euphoria and awe has never returned. Not even close. Not once...never. 

Do I miss it? Have I ever tried to get this awareness back? Frankly, no. Those five seconds are all I want in this lifetime. Because in that one brief moment I saw a "glimpse" of the enormity of it all, and it has been more than enough. Those five seconds at my dentists office, unexpected and surprising, filled my wonder plate right to the edge. They told me something important and big, and as a result I've never quite been the same.

There is an old saying from the Talmud. “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket. One should say “I am nothing but dust and ash.’ The other, ‘The universe was created just for me.’ The secret of life is to remember when to read which piece of paper.” 

On the next clear night walk outside your home, tilt your head back and look up. Then stare into the darkest part of the evening sky. Maybe there are five seconds out there waiting for you, staring back. Maybe you will see something new, something bigger than you ever thought possible.

David Baum