“Be humble for you are made of earth; be noble for you are made of stars.”
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Never have I seen something so grand, so expansive, or so infinite. A cloudless blue sky above and hot, yellow, dusty sand below. Dirt roads curved around the bend, hugging the hills as I stared out the window, snapping as many photographs as I could. I was shocked by the amount of nothingness in every direction I looked. When our bus came to a stop, we knew we had arrived at our destination, which was not much of a destination at all, but a desolate rocky trail. Our group stepped into the hot sun and reveled as we realized we were alone in the Negev, the desert that covers about 55% of Israel’s land area.
I felt free at last. This world was new, open, and ready for my open hands to grab and forge. It was a land that seemed to have not yet been ruined by human beings; there were no strip malls, dirty streets, or tourist attractions. Our tour guide led us up a steep climb to a high plateau. Some in the group thought that the path led to our campsite and were disappointed to find that Hilik, our tour guide, had led us the wrong way again, and we received only a spectacular view from the top. I felt that I had known all along that we had not been headed toward our journey’s end; it was yet another picture that we had needed to see in order to make our Israeli experience whole. Off in the distance I noticed a small lake almost hidden by the dusty hills. We called out towards the empty world, and wondered if tiny desert reptiles could hear us. Then, before we knew it, night was falling, and we scampered down the mountain to make camp.
Big mats were set up on the dusty soil for us to place our sleeping bags on, and we cooked dinner and did the dishes. Some Israelis had brought their guitars and groups of people sat in circles and sang, but I felt out of place, alone. Soon, our group leader brought us together and instructed us to walk away – to climb off into the desert to sit and reflect. To look up, to think, and to contemplate the universe. We distanced ourselves and found rocks to sit on.
As I stared at the stars, I felt infinitesimal and more alone than ever. The sky was so big, stretching out as an endless sea of deep, dark navy blue, perforated by an immeasurable number of bright tiny stars. I felt along the ground below my feet and discovered a small shell. I dusted it off and was perplexed: a seashell in the desert? I remembered the body of water I had seen from the plateau. Long ago, the rock upon which I was sitting at that moment had been underwater. Our camping spot was once the home to fish other sea life. Now, all the water had evaporated and receded, and all I could do was sit there, grasping my shell, looking up at the sky.
The stars and sky and shell reminded me that I am but one life out of billions alive today. I am but one small speck of dust compared to the immensity of the universe. In the grand scheme of things, not much time had passed before the land around me had changed into something unrecognizable. My days may seem long, but time moves quickly: the world changes, people change, constantly. Someday I will be gone, and who will remember me? Someday, maybe no one will be left to remember who I was or what I had done. Sitting in the dark rubbing my seashell in the desert put life into perspective.
As I dug deeper into the desert soil and into myself, I fought to remind myself that I am not so small. My life had to have significance and meaning, and if it had none, I would create it. I am but one person, but I can make choices; I can embrace opportunities and accomplish great things; I can leave this world knowing that I have made some impact. Whether I hike straight toward the campsite or stop to climb a mountain in between is up to me. We are made of the same stuff as stars – we are each connected to the universe, to all human beings, and to all that surrounds us on this earth.
Others sitting alone in the desert became restless, and soon we reconvened. The next day, we left the desert behind us and continued our Israeli adventure, but as I looked out the window of the bus, I played with the seashell in my pocket. Whenever I feel small, I look at that desert shell and am reminded of my place in the universe.