After reading a news story about William Shatner’s space mission with Blue Origin last year, I added Shatner’s memoir, Boldly Go, to my reading list. I finally got to it last month. Not only did the book give me some insight as I prepared for an interview with a man Shatner’s age, but I also got to thinking a lot about Shatner’s journey into space and the emotional nature of his experience.
I hope I never recover from this. I knew that what I was feeling was something I will carry with me for the rest of my life something and that I must share with as many people as I can. Going into space made me so aware of how fragile our lives are here on Earth, how we need each other and need to continue to strengthen the bonds that connect us to each other.William Shatner, Boldly Go
Regardless of how you feel about William Shatner or his “ticket to ride”, he’s not the only space traveler who has experienced what scientists call “the overview effect.”
From space, there’s a silence the depth of which you’ve never experienced before. And you think about what you’re experiencing and why… and it comes through to you so powerfully. You look down and see the surface of that globe that you’ve lived on all this time, and you know all those people down there, and they are like you. They are you. And somehow you recognize that you’re a piece of this total life.Russell Schweickart, Home Planet
I can’t imagine what it must be like to see the world from outer space. I can’t imagine the bravery of those who have the opportunity to experience it. Just viewing a photograph of our planet from space gives me pause. It’s quite the vantage point to think about our insignificance, our specific place in the whole universe, and the impact we make each day through even the simplest of actions.
Just after reading the book, I had the privilege of participating in a debut screening of Elizabeth “Betty” Buckley’s documentary film “The Stars at Night”. Her beautiful film hits similar emotional chords as those who describe their experience with space travel. The film invites the viewer to reflect on one’s sense of place and the perspective it can bring. Betty Buckley and I first met at a storytelling workshop in 2022. We bonded over our passion for story-sharing, and I love how she uses the film and the wonder of stargazing to celebrate the gift of how stories function between people.
In my work as a personal historian, I’ve discovered that a person reviewing life can experience similar emotions to a person awe-struck by the stars or overwhelmed with the expansiveness of the earth. A person, no matter the age, sharing life stories with a compassionate listener experiences a kind of “overview effect” – a chance to see a broader picture. They are reminded of their own important, complex, and beautiful life right up against all of its fragility and simplicity.
When we share our stories or listen to another person, we remember our uniquenes and our interconnectedness. And like space travel, story-sharing requires a certain vulnerability. It takes bravery to step out of our comfort zone and review and reflect on life. Self-examination awakens awe and grief and a sense of time and priorities. Reminiscing can be humbling, sad, terrifying, beautiful, and joyful all at the same time. Like Shatner & others who “boldly go” into space and are forever changed by the experience, a person’s reminiscences can inspire a new perspective on living.
Stories, stars, and space: they remind us why we’re all here and what matters most. They are a catalyst for many more ways to explore our lives and our memories. Seeing our home on earth in a new way, gazing up at the stars, and sharing in our life stories helps us live in the present and do a better job caring for our world and for each other.