Our Fifteen Minutes of V.R. Eternity

At-one-ment. You know, that calm, peaceful feeling you get when your last layer of epidermis seems indistinguishable from the wallpaper… Or The Great Divide has been crossed and the You/Other dichotomy has folded in on itself to form one big warm and fuzzy bliss-ball… For some folks it comes at the bottom of a bottle or needle stuck in their arm or blotter under their tongue. Or perhaps is experienced in the hot rhythmic breathing of the beast with two backs, as two lovers chug their way toward Nirvana doing the old in-and-out. For still others, in rock-steady stillness assuming the lotus position, and then only after years of yogic discipline. The first three methods requiring substance are too high-maintenance and taxing for me, the fourth, nice work if you can get it, and the last is pulled off by a m.o. that requires too many lifestyle changes to keep up for long. Truth is, none last forever and they all come at a price. So imagine my delight and surprise when a friend kindly offered to get me there quickly and easily—and for free! Not that I was looking for it. I mean, if at-one-ment is some sort of communing, a free border crossing from the world inside your head to all that lies outside it so that they somehow become mystically interchangeable, then I think I’ve already made adequate environmental connection in my life. I have a relationship with a s.o. that comes with enough problems to keep us both up each other’s ass indefinitely, all the friends—Facebook and flesh-type—that I need to lose/find my identity in for now, and the four walls of my apartment, which are thin enough to osmotically pick up on the intimate activities of my next-door neighbor, no less the midnight bellowing in the nabe on the street corner below my bedroom window. Hell, I’m even on personal terms with a tree in the park, which I hug now and then, and so occasionally re-connect with Mother Earth.

But today my friend wants to take me on a journey to the stars. And, like I said, at no cost to me (he’s paying). I figure, (a) Sun in the morning and the Moon at night—throw in the stars and it’s a deal--the best things in life are free, and (b) if I really want to do at-one-ment right, I’d better know what’s out there besides my own space, and see what other space I might be getting into.

So we meet at The American Museum of Natural History and he purchases two tix for the Journey to the Stars show in the Hayden Planetarium. We get seated in a back row of the rotunda where the usher assures us the heavens will open above us in unobstructed 360 degree CGI and Dolby surround-sound vistas.

The theater darkens and the perimeter of the great inverted bowl shows the projected image of the NYC skyline by day as viewed from somewhere in the middle of Sheep Meadow, Central Park. That image fades into blackness and Earth bounces down from the ceiling, looming large and all extra-terrestrial, so to speak (because now we’re in our own world suddenly floating in velvety blackness). Whoopi Goldberg (disembodied voice only—but not out of Starship Enterprise uniform) will be our star trooper tour guide as we plunge into deep space, galaxies swirling past, a gazillion years old, or still in formation, or dying, or just about to be born. Stars rapidly tumble toward us (or is it that we thrust our way toward them?) like snowflakes in a storm, or sugar poured out of a humungous sack and onto our heads. [Cue Carl Sagan here:] Billions! and billions! Each one a factory for manufacturing every element known, including the star called our Sun, responsible for all life on Earth. Those same (al)chemical elements that go to make up our own bodies. Whoopi doesn’t say it, but I happen to know there’s an old Arab saying that goes, “Be humble, for you are made of dung. Be proud, for you are made of stars.” I’m feeling more at-one-ment by the minute.

But by fifteen minutes or so it’s all over. The sky's the limit, night yields to day, the view from Sheep Meadow surrounds us once again, and the door to the planetarium swings open to let in the soft light of a March afternoon that filters through the glass walls of the Rose Space Center encapsulating the cosmos. Bit of a let-down to be cast out of paradise on such short notice. We were beginning to unify. My friend and I shake hands at the corner, descend into the subway, and go our separate ways. Today, a test drive in virtual reality. Tomorrow, the real thing.