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Radiation #1: A Galaxy Far Away

I had my first out of body experience as a nine year old boy. It happened at Bob Jones University.

Bob Jones University is an extremely conservative Christian college about ten minutes from my parent’s house. We were there on a field trip. We were there to go to the planetarium.

I had never been to a planetarium before. It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. My class walked single file into the dimly lit room. Some trippy, space age music was playing. It was like I was inside an episode of Echoes on NPR. We took our seats. They reclined back to give us a better view of the rounded ceiling. There was a control center in the middle of the room, with a person sitting behind a microphone who was going to lead us on this journey into space.

When we were all settled, the lights started to dim. It went light, to dusk, then to that dark blue that lasts for the briefest of moments immediately after the sun has made its exit for the day. Then it turned black. But not like a normal black. It was alive and vibrant. The sky started to move and all of a sudden I wasn’t a body anymore, I was simply a brain. A brain going on a tour of the galaxy, the galaxy according to conservative Christians who think the world is five thousand years old.

That day at the planetarium was first time I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. It was the first time I felt like a speck of dust in this ever expanding universe. It was a complicated feeling. Up to that point I was pretty sure the world revolved around me. Or if it didn’t, at least I was an important part of the equation. But there, on the ceiling of a building off of Wade Hampton Blvd, I was introduced to nebulas and light years. I was introduced to things I would never see. That existed and thrived without me.

Ever since then, I’ve loved looking at the sky. I’ve been to planetariums in other cities, and each time is a magical experience. My first girlfriend had those stars on the ceiling of her bedroom. I’d lay there and look at those glow in the dark constellations and ponder the mystery of everything. Where did we come from. Where are we going. What does it matter. We are here for such a short time and there is so much other than us. The thing is, we don’t matter much. At least on a grand scale. Which is what makes us matter so much on a smaller one. Sure the black holes might not give a shit about us, but our friends sure do. Because we share time together. And time is the one part of the universe that isn’t expanding. At least from our perspective.

This morning at 9am, on planet Earth, I checked into Radiation Oncology Center at the St. Francis Cancer Center. I sat in the waiting room for about five minutes before they called my name and brought me back for Radiation Treatment number one. The room was sleek and modern. The Radiation machine was in the middle of the room. Two young techs told me to take off my shirt and lie down on the machine. I put hands on the bar behind me. They adjusted me to the proper position. My chest totally exposed. They lined up the machine with my new tattoos, and told me the whole thing would take about ten minutes.

They left the room and I stared at the ceiling. I have been on more of these machines over the past two years than I care to count. MRIs, CTs, PET Scans. And on all the ceilings of all of the rooms is clip art of the beach. I’m not kidding. I’ve had these tests done in four different hospitals in two different states and they all have beach scenes. I’ve written about it before if you care to take a look:

On the ceiling of the radiation room, however, there was not clip art of a beach. It was a mural of the night sky. There were the constellations, the wisps of the Milky Way Galaxy. There were holes poked in the ceiling with little twinkling lights that looked like stars. For a moment I had another out of body experience. I was nine years old, back at the planetarium at Bob Jones University. A small speck in this enormous, ever expanding universe.

The machine circled around me. Radiation was directed at the two cancerous lymph nodes between my lungs. I thought about all the science. All the knowledge we have as humans. Of the far reaches of the galaxy, and the tiny cells inside my body. And there was me. The human in the middle. Meaningless. Yet integral. A part of the biggest and smallest mysteries in the universe.

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