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Consider what a 2-year-old girl and pictures from NASA can teach us after an election

When a star like the Sun runs out of fuel, it expands and its outer layers puff off, and then the core of the star shrinks. This phase is known as a “planetary nebula,” and astronomers expect our Sun will experience this in about 5 billion years. NASA

SALT LAKE CITY — What can a 2-year-old girl in far-away Turkey and a bunch of photos from outer space teach us on the morning after an election? What do they mean in the aftermath of a campaign season some people told us was as important as life or death?

Plenty, if we’re willing to pay attention.

Election seasons are tsunamis of exaggeration and earthquakes of hyperbole. Almost all of this is directed at the two candidates running for president. From social media to commercials on television, the messages we received were dire. One candidate would lead us off a cliff of irresponsibility, while the other would drag us into a swamp of socialism and ruin. You decide.

It’s as if all those high school lessons about checks and balances, three co-equal branches, vetoes and filibusters were mere fairy tales, while real big bad wolves and wicked stepmothers reside on paper ballots, surrounded by barbed wire obstacle courses we must navigate with blue- or black-inked pens.

That’s why we all need to learn a thing or two from Ayda Gezgin. Her earthquake was certainly not hyperbole; her predicament was not exaggerated.

Gezgin is 2 years old. She turns 3 next month. When a 7.0 magnitude quake struck Friday in Izmir, the Aegean coastal Turkish city where she lives, her building collapsed. A team of rescuers, directed by her father, pulled her to safety Tuesday, 91 hours later.

CNN said rescue workers described how she had been next to a sturdy dishwasher that protected her from heavy debris and created a type of “life triangle.”

Try doing anything for 91 hours straight, let alone just existing in darkness. Photos showed a remarkably alert and beautiful little girl, with an expression that seemed almost anxious to see how the world outside had changed. She asked for water, and for a yogurt drink that is popular in Turkey.

Elizabeth Edwards, the late wife of a politician from North Carolina and an author, once said, “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.”

She knew a thing or two about that, having dealt with her husband’s infidelities and her own struggles with cancer.

But resilience in a child is something more than just accepting change. It is the personification of an indomitable will grounded in innocence and belief. It means more to everyone else, as well. I imagine that, to the hordes of rescue workers who had spent days pulling lifeless bodies from rubble, her discovery was like a renewal of life and a birth of hope.

Life finds a way to survive and perpetuate. Good things can rise, like phoenix, from any pile of ashes. The republic is certainly not in an ash heap, no matter what happens in the coming days. The great American experiment will continue. Voter turnout proved that people still take the responsibilities of self-government seriously.

But little Ayda should bring us back to earth, and to things that matter most.

Reuters this week published a report on how the election divided families. One 21-year-old man told his mother he was severing ties with her because of her choice for president. Many others are disowning friends, siblings, parents or children for similar reasons, buying into the hype.

Discovering Ayda makes all of that seem trivial and misguided.

And what of those photos of outer space?

They lend perspective.

NASA published these from a variety of missions and telescopes. They show galaxies, supernovas and stars, arrayed in beautiful colors and intricate patterns, an unfathomable display of light and tiny planets, perhaps some like ours.

The photos beg us to consider our place in it all, as less than a speck of dust on a planet smaller than a pebble.

Do we matter? Do our elections matter? Does the life of a 2-year-old girl, her sufferings and her future, matter?

We can hardly afford to believe otherwise.

To believe a 2-year-old child matters in a vast realm of trillions of stars and countless planets is to believe it is possible the hairs of our head can be counted and a sparrow can’t fall without being a thing of consequence in a grand design.

On the day after an election, these things can both elevate us and sweep away our trivialities, and we should be thankful for that.