Time spent doing what you love is never wasted

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June 17 2010 10:00 AM

Time spent doing what you love is never wasted

Recently, I was performing the mundane task of taking out the trash.

I went from room to room, collecting the detritus of the week. I then spent a few minutes scooping out and changing the cat litter, and, sighing, finally tied up the bag and hauled it out to the bins around the side of the house.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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As I lugged the hefty bin out to the curb in the darkness, I did what I do, what I always do, when I go outside: I looked up.

I was greeted instantly with an astonishing sight: the reddish, glowing dot of Mars bumped right up against Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. The two were paired less than a degree between each other, low over the western horizon.

It was beautiful. Mars was the slightly brighter of the pair, and even in the mildly light-polluted and sparsely clouded night sky of Boulder I could see the color difference between the planet, some 240 million kilometers away, and the star, 3 million times farther distant yet.

I let my gaze drift a bit over and saw Saturn looming near Leo's other end. Venus, I knew, was already behind the mountains, but I could see the Big Dipper standing on its bowl to the northwest. Following the arc of the dipper's handle, I was led to mighty Arcturus, an orange giant nearing the end of its life, and a harbinger of things to come for our own star. Turning, was that Vega I saw dancing in between my neighbor's tree branches? Why yes, yes it was. Summer's coming, Vega is telling me.

My trash-hauling chore was forgotten. I suddenly had a flashback, visceral and total, of being a teenager. Standing at the end of my family's driveway, I watched the sky. Every clear night you'd find me out there. I spent hundreds of hours, thousands, either gazing with my eye to the telescope or simply with my chin tipped up, the Universe unfolded above me. I would always have to pause when a car drove by, and while my absorption with the task didn't allow it to occur to me then, I now wonder how many of those people saw me and thought to themselves that I was wasting my time.

But as I stand outside my house as an adult, gaping up at the sky, I am familiar there. The stars are my friends... no, that's hopelessly anthropomorphic and somewhat twee. But they are like slipping your feet into well-worn slippers, like the first bite of a recipe you've perfected by countless trial-and-error meals, like holding a book whose spine has been softened through years of reading and re-reading.

I'm comfortable with the sky. I'm at home there. When I stand in my yard and look up, my heart sings and my mind reaches out. My weekly chore was interrupted, delayed, but it didn't matter.

I don't know what your own passion is. But I will say this, and you hear me well: no time is wasted spent under the stars. And no time is wasted spent doing what you love.

Picture credit: Il conte di Luna's Flickr photostream, used under the Creative Commons license.

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