satiliteFew people worry about space junk – but I do.

Most of it is nothing to fret about: a chip of paint flaked off a rocket here, a tool carelessly cast adrift there – but this stuff moves incredibly fast: nine times the speed of a bullet and it is up there right now, buzzing over our heads like a swarm of angry hornets.

Sooner than later, it will all come down.

I don’t worry about the tiny bits. These will burn up in the upper atmosphere and if we are lucky, we will see them as shooting stars streaking across the night sky.

But it’s the big stuff I worry about – the spy satellites.

There is a long chain of them, a hundred miles up, each larger and heavier than a Greyhound bus, slowly sinking into the atmosphere like a row of surfers on a spent wave.

Nobody knows when and where they will crash.

It’s the karma of physics: everything we shoot up, inevitably falls back on us.

But there is also the physics of karma to worry about.  All the mistakes we have made. All the things we should not have done – all orbit our lives like space junk and on each orbit, they inch a little closer.

The little things we probably do not have to fret about. The white lie, the supermarket gossip, the forgotten thank you.  These things just burn away in the course of living. But the bigger things we should worry about. Those are the things that land with a thud.

We may have forgotten the jilted lover until they appear across the table at our job interview.

We may not recall the name of the kid we bullied in high school until we read it on the cop’s badge who just pulled us over….

As we get older, these things accumulate. They orbit our lives, slowly gaining mass until even the little things get big enough to punch through and do real damage.

As children, we never thought sliding into second base came at a cost but now we pay the price with every step.

In college, we pickled our brains.  Now we struggle to remember where we put our keys.

And the money we so foolishly spent – it rains down on us as debt.

These are the things we need to worry about, the junk that orbits the earth and our lives.  Even if we have escaped being hit by anything serious, we still know what is out there and some of it is big.

It moves incredibly fast and it has our name on it.

Author: Almost Iowa

33 thoughts on “Skyfall”

  1. It is getting redundant to say your pieces are well-written, Greg. Shall I simply blow a raspberry on any rare occasion that I believe a piece falls short of your usual level of skill? You smoothly transitioned from skyfall to downfall from self-made disasters. You say you intended the piece as humorous but to readers I believe it reads instead as serious, and works well on that level.

    I don’t agree that what goes around comes around in this life. I think most people who act badly to others knowingly continue to do so and it does not come back to bite them. In this life.

    I don’t believe any more in looking back. I no longer believe it helps one to change or improve. I believe in acts, not thoughts. Go out and do: Volunteer. Help someone else. It enlarges us, enriches us, connects us with others and the universe in some way I cannot define, and gives us a power we do not gain in any other way. And, in your belief system as expressed in your piece, maybe it balances out some of that past bad karma.

    1. Quite a bit of this essay comes from waking up in the middle of the night with the sudden realization that I had not adequately tested a key component in a system scheduled to go live the next day. I also get the shivers every Dec 31, when my systems roll over to the new year.

      [Oh my God!! Did operations remember to leave enough disk space for the log roll-up that occurs at the end of the year?]

      I wrote a critical system ten years ago that does a million transactions a day [often the transactions are a matter of life and death] and though I retired last September, I still worry about it. The thing is, the system has never failed.

      1. My downbringing protected me from knowing how hot I was as a programmer. I always assumed my code would work flawlessly by the time it was placed into production because it always did. I never had a fail. At my second company, they were still using assembly language (!) for an antiquated download from a major vendor, so they taught me assembly language. The first program I wrote was a rework of the interface to speed it up, and it was still running, untwerked, in production years later.

        I am betting you did the same backward, in heels. Yet we both lost sleep worrying. The difference was, you worked with life-critical systems. I worked on systems that mattered little except to vain and petty bickering political #sses. Thank you for doing such a good job, Greg. I’m sorry you still have worry each year. Learn to let go. It’s time to let go. Worry produces nothing. I don’t think God wants us to do it as much as we do.

        1. I wrote my first program in IBM Basic Assembler Language (BAL). It didn’t work. I kept researching and testing for the error and finally I approached the instructor, a flat-top, barrel-chested no-nonsense ex-Marine, who never quite left the Marine Corp.

          “Uh,” I said, “I found an error in the compiler.”

          “Kid,” he said, “What we got here is either a compiler error, which I seriously doubt, or a personality flaw. I’m putting my money on the later.”

          I am glad I didn’t make book with him.

          1. I am not worthy. You do know this is why I started calling you A.I.?

            Here come a lengthy (what else, from me?), irrelevant, unnecessary and pitiful (you’ll see why) tangent: The title of this tangent is:
            “But– But– I’m Smart, Too!”
            Some guy dropped into my office once and asked me what I was doing, analysis and coding-wise, and why I was doing it. We chatted for a few minutes, pleasantly. I found him interesting. When he left, he headed into my boss’s office, chatted with her briefly, too, and left. She came rushing in to me. “He was really impressed with you!” “Oh?” I said, disinterested. “He said ‘She has quite the brain in her.'” [I paraphrase–this was decades ago, and I paid little attention at the time.] “Huh.” “Don’t you know who that was?! Richard Feynman!” (Her spouse was a Physics wonk.) I didn’t know who that was, and never bothered to find out. He was just another smart Physics dude to me. I was already buds with Bob (Robert) Tooper, who was pretty dang smart. I never did know Feynman was whoop-de-doo until a few years ago, and I’m ashamed I didn’t know Bob, too, made such a splash in Pascal until I read his obit (I should have known: He was always toying with it, and we chatted about it, even though I didn’t code in it.)
            Come to think of it, the title of this tangent is: “I’m Someone Who Once Talked To Really Smart People and Lived To Tell About It”.

  2. Ooh kind of a gloomy way to think about ‘chickens coming home to roost’. I think I’m defending against the truth of your piece only because it’s taken me a lifetime to learn to stop worrying about what I can’t control. To the extent that I can’t control my past decisions and actions, i try not to worry about how they might come crashing on top of me. I prefer to learn not to compound the junk by repeating the same bad choices.

    1. I keep telling myself not to worry about the things that I cannot control – but then a little voice chimes in – “you need to worry about the consequences of not worrying”

      1. Ask that little voice, “What are the consequences of not worrying over someting I can’t control? It will or won’t happen regardless of whether I worry.”

      2. Oops, wasn’t done yet!

        Worry has it’s purpose but it can be destructive to one’s mental health in many circumstances. Mom was basically paralyzed with worry on a daily basis; what good did it do her?

        1. That is horrible about your mom. I certainly do not want to make light of the suffering that some people go through. The essay was meant as a humorous warning about how the things we do have a way of returning to us, so we need to be mindful of what we do.

          1. I know 😉 and your message is a useful reminder.

            I’m no different than millions of other kids who have to learn to be healthy adults beyond the dysfunctions of childhood homes. I feel sorry for Mom but I also feel like she did little to overcome her stumbling blocks. And yet, now at 88, she tells us she’s had a great life and seems to remember only good times. The interesting ways we humans compensate and rationalize!

  3. Ah, this really resonated for me. I don’t think about space junk as much as flying debris like large panes of glass falling from buildings in NYC. Passing by a midtown theatre once, I narrowly escaped serious injury, a large sheet of projectile glass hurtled to the ground narrowly missing me. Karma will always bite you in the butt, right?

    1. a large sheet of projectile glass hurtled to the ground narrowly missing me.

      I take things like that personally. I know the whole world is not out to get me – just the part of the world that is where I am.

  4. This is a heavier than usual topic for you. But one that we all need to be reminded of occasionally. What we say, do, speak and, yes, even write, can make a profound impact on someone, somewhere. In a positive way or a negative way. Thank you for the reminder this morning.

    1. In this analogy, atmospheric friction is grace. It takes care of the little things. What we need is more grace, lots more, because as a society. we keep shooting up heavier and heavier sins.

  5. I wasn’t sure where this was going when I started reading it, but knew I would love it as I do all your pieces :). And Wow! What a powerful punch it packed! Great piece buddy! We can always use this reminder for how we behave every day of our lives. Thanks a bunch for sharing!

  6. A very good point you raise here…I do rather hope that the toilets in space burn up. What a headline, ‘English Bloke Killed by Lavatory System from Outer Space’!

      1. You’ve just triggered a memory! A couple of summers ago I took a book with me on a trip to the Loire Valley. The title ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’ by Gavin Extence. A most splendid story not that far removed from your subject matter today. If you get a chance it’s worth a read.

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