There are moments of insight in life that stay with you forever. Invisible to all except you, they are there, making minute adjustments to the meanings that you assign to what you see, think and learn. One such moment for me came many years ago during a marine science lecture.
At that time, I had been going through a period of asking myself where I belong. Pakistani by parental heritage, Yorkshire lass by birth and Glaswegian by upbringing, I wondered where was home for me. As much as Scotland is the only home I have known, and where I happily feel I am home, I don’t have roots here in the way that native Scottish people do. I don’t know how it would feel to have ancestors who were born here or to associate different towns and cities with my family or ancestral history. Yet, in Pakistan, I am regarded as an outsider – one of those odd people who choose to live permanently elsewhere as a minority. So where did I truly belong?
I pondered such thoughts during the class for my marine science course. The lecturer was explaining how the moon’s gravitational pull causes the earth’s tides. No matter where on Earth you go, tides ebb and flow, caused by the moon, 238,855 miles from Earth. It is a planet-wide phenomenon; the moon’s gravity affects the whole globe, not just particular areas. Photographs of earth taken by astronauts from space tumbled into my mind. Earth appears as a blue marble floating in the dense blackness of space, its swirling white clouds veiling the life below. I realised that humanity is akin to a child utterly unaware of the wondrous context in which it has come into existence. From space, there are no barriers describing where different groupings of people live. From space, Earth is one world where humanity resides. Indeed, one of the images taken from space, ‘Earthrise’ by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, is often credited with having been central to galvanising the environmental movement.