Editor’s Notebook: The rocket science of renewal

September 28, 2022 5:40 am

The Pillsbury Free Library in Warner on a foggy September morning. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

My family and I have big plans this weekend: We’re heading to a local pharmacy to get the latest COVID-19 booster along with a round of flu shots. Back at home we’ll toast to good health with Smartwater and Gatorade in hopes of avoiding the worst of the vaccine hangover.

And then, through autumn and winter, we’ll do our best to trust the universe.

Most of the advice I give myself and anyone willing to listen amounts to just that these days – “trust the universe.” That’s not to say I believe everything is destined to work out satisfactorily in the end – how would I know that? But all of the worrying I do is the darkest – and most wasteful – part of my life. Like you, I’m sure, I understand perfectly well that nothing is so counterproductive as fretting about the future or rehashing the past, but too many of my hours are spent bouncing between those two imaginary realms. Intellectually, I know that full surrender to that which we cannot control is the only way to go – especially in this age of high tension and higher anxiety. 

Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between really knowing something and knowing it “intellectually.” It is like the difference, to paraphrase Mark Twain, between lightning and the lightning bug.

On Monday evening, I thought about “trusting the universe” in a much more literal sense as I watched a room overflowing with space scientists erupt in celebration as their $325 million spacecraft was decimated. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, craft ended its 10-month journey through space just as planned – by meeting the surface of an 11 billion-pound asteroid known as Dimorphos at nearly 15,000 mph.

In one sense, the test mission was the product of a fundamental mistrust of the universe: Someday a giant rock might set its sights on Mother Earth and a team of geniuses in matching blue polo shirts might be the difference between a close call and global catastrophe. 

But in another, and greater, sense an astrophysicist trusts the universe at a depth I can’t even fathom. The universe is going to do what the universe is going to do, DART program or not, and ultimately all we can do is fully embrace not only our abilities but our place and our time in the world. All that rocket scientists, reporters, and receptionists owe the universe is our presence and authenticity. 

To that end, I returned to our local public library earlier this month for the first time since the pandemic closed the building 2½ years ago. It’s a small gesture, I know, but the last thing I wrote for publication before the pandemic changed everything was about finishing a wonderful novel from the library while my daughters slept in during a school vacation. In the column, I pointed the girls toward one particularly moving scene in “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid about how shared sorrow unites all of us. “When you give yourself over to other people’s stories,” the person I was then wrote, “you shed the weight of your own narrative – and it feels something like freedom.”

Reading fiction is one of the best ways to exercise the muscles of empathy, but I inexplicably stepped back from those workouts during the pandemic, just when I needed them most. I grew weaker as a result: I worried more, ceased giving myself over freely to other people’s stories, and became immobilized by the weight of my own narrative.

I stopped trusting the universe – I see that now – and surrendered the freedom born of that trust. The journey back to a better and freer self won’t be easy, but I’m certain the library card renewal will help. 

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin. Email: [email protected]