One night in the summer I stood out on our deck with a group of friends. They sky was awesome. There seemed to be nothing but stars and we could see the incredible variation of light that spoke of planets, nebulae and galaxies we couldn’t make out in any detail. There were mysteries there that made the mind reel with the extent of their possibilities and we were captivated.
We stood there looking up and none of us had words. The night sky is like that. It silences you with its sheer magnitude. As a species, we have been craning our necks and letting our imaginations soar across it for thousands and thousands of years. Even as we have learned more about it, the aura of space compels us. So we were rapt. Then, someone pointed to a speck of light moving eastward across the heavens.
It was the space station. In the depths of that summer night it shone as it reflected the light of Earth and we watched in awe as it sailed right across the sky. To think of man’s great achievements, to consider, even for a moment, the full range of man’s ability to create, and to think of a vehicle placed in the sky to increase our understanding and knowledge was wonderful.
Well, it was soon gone and we turned our attentions to each other and we began to talk and no one looked up at the sky anymore. We sat out under that canopy of majesty, of ordered chaos, of the sublime intent of creation and let ourselves sink into the mysteries of each other. The night became a time for friendship and closeness and our own increased understanding and knowledge of each other.
Nights like that are powerful. Times when the awesome nature of the universe touches us at the same time we encounter the limitless possibility of each other are unforgettable. They point to our inherent ability to overcome, prevail and continue. So when I heard about a Canadian billionaire spending $35 million to become a space tourist just to stay on the space station, it struck me as outrageous. Here is a man with riches galore, with the ability to create amazing changes, and all he could think to do with it was take a ride.
Here on Earth, $35 million would change a lot of things. You could fill a lot of hungry bellies. You could put a roof over a lot of people’s heads. You could send deserving kids to university. You could bring water to parched countries. You could invest in developing technologies and you could help create renewable energies. That’s just a smattering of the incredible range that $35 million could cover if put to work on the planet.
Time and again we have seen the squandering of such opportunities. I recall Ryan’s and Trista’s. Millions watched on television as the reality show couple spent a few million on a wedding. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on flowers alone and Oprah Winfrey gushed over the splendor and made media darlings of the couple. Time and again we have seen money sensationalized. We have seen riches wasted on things that are self-centred and vain and we have been taught to admire it, gush over the wonder of excess.
In the real world nothing changes. Diamonds and gold and expensive treats do nothing to heal the energy of the planet. They don’t bring any of us closer nor do they allow the privileged to encounter the nature of the poor and the suffering. They only make them less visible for a moment in time.
When Guy Laliberte’s ride on the space station was over he landed back on a planet where nothing had changed. The $35 million and the opportunities it held had vanished. The potential was gone forever. The issues and the problems that plague our human family were no closer to being addressed or solved. There was still the same level of misery and woe that existed pre-takeoff. But he will have had fun.
See, there are enough resources right here, right now, to change things. There always has been. There’s enough money. There’s enough creativity. There’s enough will on the part of people who genuinely care about our common future. The greatest block in our passage to the survival of our species is our fear of lack and our complete misunderstanding of the role of great wealth.
But we need to increase our understanding and knowledge of what great wealth can do for people. It’s people who make great wealth possible. That’s the unalterable truth and there’s a moral responsibility that comes with it. Billionaires in space change nothing. It’s a heartless thing to do, really, and we need to tell them that.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels, and his new novel, RaggedCompany, is out from
Doubleday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.