We are now more than six months from the time the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus-19 pandemic a public health emergency of international concern. The virus has dramatically changed our day-to-day behaviors, illuminated issues of inequality and taken a toll on our collective psyche. But amid turmoil, there is always hope — hope that can shine out of the darkest night and guide us to a better future. We can turn to the stars for a lesson of optimism from one of the brilliant stars in our sky, Betelgeuse and “The Great Dimming.”
The star Betelgeuse is one of the brightest stars in our sky. Nestled on the constellation of Orion, this supergiant gives off a distinct red glow that has fascinated humanity for ages. In October of 2019, Betelgeuse was observed to be noticeably dimming and astronomers speculated if a supernova event, and the star’s death, was imminent. But near the end of February 2020, the star’s unique brightness had returned, leaving scientists scratching their heads at the cause.
Recently, scientists using NASA’s Hubble telescope believed they discovered the reason for the dimming. A dense cloud of material had partially obscured the star.
Before the dimming, a large amount of hot material was released from the star’s southern hemisphere that was two to four times brighter than usual on the ultraviolet light scale. As the material went out into space it cooled, forming a carbon-thick particulate cloud that made it appear to be dimming, even as the star remained to be just as bright and active.
There was no supernova and there was no cosmic threat. There was simply something blocking our vision that then challenged us to look at the situation in a different way.
In our daily life as we struggle with the new reality of this global pandemic, it is easy to perceive the world as a dark and dreary place. But is our reality dimming? No. Our vision is just obscured, and we have fallen into the trap of comparing our clouds to times of extraordinary brightness. The light and stars are still there. Yes, we are embedded in a cloud of the pandemic, social upheaval and strife; but there is still light and hope in the world to be seen if we hold out with patience and look for it.
This weekend on a social media, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted about the positive opportunities the pandemic has provided. “One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is a tremendous opportunity for service and humanitarian work,” he wrote. “COVID-19 has brought about the largest humanitarian project of the church to date. To date, we have participated in 757 projects in 137 countries, spending many millions of dollars. Much more time and effort will be required in the near future, and the church is eager to continue to help.”
Humanity has shown its eagerness to help — not just in humanitarian efforts, but down to the very basics of altering human social behavior. People are sacrificing their own comfort for the sake of others as they social and physically distance themselves from loved ones and activities. Masks are being made at great speed and worn to provide protection for the wearers and everyone around them. Individuals are taking steps to slow the curve of infection with the Deseret News’ moonshot goal, a quest to quell the pandemic by Labor Day. People are assisting and reaching out to their fellow man like never before, truly letting their light so shine before others.
While there is still darkness in 2020, there is also an abundance of light — light we can seek out and share with others. Even if our goals of quelling the pandemic and seeking the positive can seem unachievable, remember what author and minister Norman Vincent Peale observed about such lofty ambitions: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
KellieAnn Halvorsen produces “Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson” on KSL Newsradio. She is an avid learner and semiprofessional nerd whose motto in life is, “Be creative. Be bold. Be inspiring.” Follow her creativity at KAHalvo.com.