Space Dust

We didn't need a story, we didn't need a real world
We just had to keep walking
And we became the stories, we became the places
We were the lights, the deserts, the faraway worlds
We were you before you even existed

Anthony Gonzalez

There she was — 13,796 feet above sea level, holding a steady 45. The 2006 Honda CRV she picked up from Keahole was no beauty, but it got her from the sea to the sky. Tree-like silhouettes darted past her windows as she craned her neck towards the night sky, spellbound. Occasionally flitting her eyes towards the road to ensure she didn’t cut short the life-span of some stray chicken, Lucy was absolutely fixated by the translucent, speckled dome that engulfed her vehicle. Two lefts and a right turn later, her phone finally chimed in, “Your destination will be on your right in 250 feet.” The compact sports-SUV swung to a grating halt as Lucy slammed on the foot brake and pulled the handbrake in one fell motion.

She was finally here, Mauna Kea Observatory, atop the largest dormant volcano in Hawaii. When measured from its underwater base, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, boasting a dizzying height of 33,500 feet. Lucy closed her eyes and sat in the enclosed space of the Honda for a long second, taking a deep breath. She felt lightheaded as if she had just ran a 10k. The more likely culprit was the elevation. This was one of the few places in the world where you could drive from sea level to 14,000 feet in just under 2 hours, with 40% less oxygen at the peak, where Lucy currently resided. She needed a few more moments to collect herself before leaving the confined shelter of the vehicle to confront the vast unknown that awaited her outside.

The HP OfficeJet 3830 brings the power of the printer to the palm of your hand. The HP Smart app allows you to easily set up your printer, scan from your smartphone, order toner, and print from the cloud. Designed to fit your office. No. Designed to fit your life. That sounds too pretentious. Designed to fit your office. Okay, what printer isn’t designed to fit in an office? Designed to fit your life. Final decision. Lucy grunted and closed out her Google Docs tab while stabbing another piece of chicken in her salad as if it was the source of her frustration. Here she was sitting in her eight-by-twelve cubicle, working her nine-to-five job, eating her papery Sweetgreen salad as if spending those 30 minutes at her desk for lunch would be the productivity difference that would get her the big break she’d been hoping for. This was a scene that she never thought she would star in if you asked her three years ago, newly graduated with a double in Communications and English. Back then Lucy was sure that she had a one way ticket to one of the big five publishing firms, and maybe even fitting a published novella under her name by the age of twenty-five.

Well, here she was. Twenty-five. Back in her home town of Temple City, California writing copy for some of the most riveting and innovative technological products in the world: printers. It was a sick joke. Lucy often feels like she is starring in the world’s most mundane stage show, but without knowing anyone’s lines or stage cues and only barely deciphering the audience’s reactions. Under the harsh spotlight was a shoddy impression of herself, reciting some cobbled together script pandering to the audience, and the show is already halfway through.

“Okay, I’ve officially hit a new low with these depressing thoughts,” she mumbled to herself.

The familiar ring of a bell cut through her thoughts as a notification slid into view from the right side of her computer screen. It read, “Matt’s Cheap Flights: Round-trip Hawaii Today Less Than $400,” followed by a plane, sun, and beach emoji for individuals that have now evolved past the ability to read plain English. She juggled the thought in her head for a second, daydreaming of soft white-sand beaches with a margarita in her hand, before snapping out of it.

What is this? Eat, pray, love? How much more predictable could you get Lucy. Having some quarter-life crisis and dealing with it by traveling and some ‘finding yourself’ bullshit. She rolled her eyes and swiped the notification away. This wasn’t the first time she bought into the black hole of “optimization” and “self-care” prescriptions. It wasn’t all bad, but the cynic in her couldn’t help but feel like a cog in the seemingly unstoppable consumerist engine that ate up her problems and spit out remedies packaged in cute, convenient, bite-sized boxes. Lululemon yoga pants. Group cycling classes. Self-help books. And the list goes on.

Lost in thought, her gaze landed on the polished picture frame displayed proudly on her desk. Lucy and her father, grins as bright as a summer day. The world was a better place when he smiled. He always knew the right words to say in moments like this.

I wish you were here, Papa. He’d probably command her to get up out of that sad, mushy office chair and get on the first flight to Hawaii. She recalled that he always talked about this one place on Big Island. What was it again? He said you could see the entire Milky Way from there; that the view of the night sky was littered with…space dust. What a view that must be.

Lucy opened up another Chrome tab. Three Google searches, two online forms, and one email later, she was ready to make her way to Mauna Kea observatory.

Lucy’s breath finally settled back into a stable rhythm. Deep breath in. Hold. Exhale. She extinguished the engine and the last beams of artificial light faded away. With little to no light pollution 14,000 feet up on a remote island, Lucy knew that the view awaiting her outside would rob her of her breath again. For dramatic effect, she closed her eyes, found the handle of the driver-side door and stepped out. Tilting her head towards the heavens, she slowly opened her eyes.

Space dust.

Lucy felt like she was at the center of the universe’s largest snow globe, where the incandescent celestial bodies light-years away were reduced to snowflakes shimmering gently, suspended in time. She imagined them as insignificant dust particles floating through the infinitely expanding backdrop of the cosmos. At the scale of the observable universe, every piece of matter regardless of magnitude must simply be…dust.

Lucy wrinkled her nose and the musty smell of mildew suddenly invaded her olfactory senses. She was three years old again, clumsily climbing up the crooked stairs leading to the attic of her childhood home. Her father’s footsteps followed gently behind. At first glance, the attic was a decidedly uninteresting place to three year-old Lucy. Pitch black, she could barely make out the indistinct outlines of cardboard box towers stacking up to the beams which met in a series of arches.

“No fun, can’t see,” grumbled Lucy.

“What do you mean, honey? This is a graveyard for treasures,” whispered her father playfully. “Didn’t you know?”

He gave Lucy a sly smile before disappearing into the far corner of the attic. She was sure the room had eaten him up whole.

“Papa?” muttered Lucy shakily. “Pa!”


Suddenly a rumbling voice rang out, “Let there be light!” And in that single moment the room was set ablaze. Streaks of sunlight cut through the attic like bullets and the shadows ran like thieves scurrying away in terror. And then there was the dust. Plumes of dust blooming from every corner of the room, shimmering and colliding and dispersing. The light jumped and scattered through the swirling particles as if joining them in their emphatic dance.

That day Lucy remembered staying in the attic for two whole hours. Unmoving. Not until every last visible dust particle danced its last dance and settled again on the cold wood paneling. Even now, Lucy isn’t sure what exactly about that scene captivated her so thoroughly. The chaotic movements of each particle. The way they clashed, swirled, separated so unpredictably only to finally come to rest again. It was nothing short of sublime.

“We’re really just space dust aren’t we?” Lucy chuckled, speaking to the stars, as if to an old friend.

She found that thought unexpectedly comforting. She didn’t remember the last time she just let herself — be. To simply exist. She’d always been living life at 200 miles per hour. Because there was always a next stop. The next milestone. She forgot that she was just space dust. Dancing her dance. Colliding and swaying with other particles along the way. And one day she would also settle on the unmoving floor of the universe with every other piece of matter.

Looking up at her fellow, sparkling comrades trillions of miles away, she grinned. It was moments of connection like this that she remembers so vividly from the short 25 years of her life. Biking down Venice Beach with Papa after spending the perfect Sunday eating fruit pops and building sand castles. Gasping for breath with friends after everyone exhausted the last minute fighting for oxygen giggling about some mindless joke. Moments that made her think, “If I couldn’t do this forever, I’d die.”

It was simply the collision of particles. Scattering and refracting the light around them as if like magic.

And she knew that sight must’ve been nothing short of sublime.

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