In Lightyears No One Is in a Hurry
A Quest for More Space in Our Lives
A bestselling book about how outer space can help connect us on earth
3:32 a.m., the hottest summer on record, and writer, poet and theatre maker Marjolijn van Heemstra cannot get to sleep. She lies in bed, scrolling through stories of rage and injustice, the climate crisis and political protest, her thoughts endlessly orbiting identity debates and the growing divisions around her. She cannot see a way out, a perspective beyond her daily life, a future for her children beyond the brokenness of the present. But then she stumbles on the ‘The Hubble Ultra Deep Field’, an image of billions of stars scattered in the darkness like countless broken fragments, and she has a realisation: we are surrounded by so much more than the daily stream of apocalyptic news.
In In Lightyears No One Is in a Hurry, Van Heemstra investigates how outer space can provide us with new perspectives on ourselves and the planet. Inspired by astronauts’ stories of recognising the earth’s fragility in an infinite, inhospitable universe, she pursues this ‘overview effect’ in everyday life. What begins with the Hubble Telescope’s composite photograph, leads her from poets and philosophers, psychologists and park rangers, self-proclaimed ‘luna-tics’ and Mars missions, space rights lawyers and aspiring space colonists, to the search for exoplanets and extra-terrestrial life and more.
Time and again, outer space proves to be a place vital to humanity’s collective imagination, hopes and dreams – but also a political space, vulnerable to the same dangers of short-term thinking that have wreaked so much damage here on earth. With the aeons and light years aeons outer space asks us to think in, it serves as an important antidote, a realm that must be defended for the common good. ‘Understanding that we all live on a very small planet in a ridiculously large, completely unfathomable cosmos helps relativise individual problems, conflicts and differences.’ By attending to our place in the cosmos, by being what Van Heemstra calls astronauts on earth, we can find each other again on the basis of a common vista.
In this autobiographical meditation in eighteen parts, Van Heemstra’s writing is clear and poetic. She restores mystery and wonder to the everyday, remarking in an interview: ‘I didn’t make my space voyage on earth because I wanted to understand things. I wanted precisely to break free from understanding. And the heavens are a very good place for that.’