The Time I Met Neil deGrasse-Tyson
Scientists are to me what rock stars and famous actors are to everyone else. One of my favorites is Dr. Neil deGrasse-Tyson. He’s brilliant, hilarious, an eloquent writer, and full of wonder about the universe. He’s the rightful heir to Carl Sagan, 1 which is a great thing to be, and a true New Yorker. I love him.
When The Pluto Files came out, I made the trek to the Union Square Barnes and Noble 2 to meet him in person. I had seen him at a conference a year earlier, but I was too shy to talk to him. 3 This time, though, I knew exactly what I was going to say.
He gave a quite entertaining talk and then the audience lined up for autographs. The attendant asked my name, wrote it down on a post it, then handed the book and post-it to the man himself.
ATTENDANT: This is Mara.
NDT: Hi, Mara!
ME: Hi, Dr. Tyson. Um, I have a question.
ME: Do you ever… I mean, the universe is so big and sometimes I feel so small, you know, so insignificant, and it can be overwhelming. So I guess my question is, how do you deal with the existential anxiety that comes from studying the universe and seeing it how it really is?
NDT: Mara, may I ask you a question?
ME (Surprised): Um, yeah, sure.
NDT: Have you taken a Philosophy course?
ME (Not sure where this is going): Um, well, yeah. I took Ethics and some other classes… Why do you ask?
NDT (Smiling slightly): Because only people who have taken a Philosophy course ever use the word “existential.”
I don’t blush often, but I did then. He had called me out. He went on:
NDT: I wrote about this in an essay. You should check it out.
He scribbled “Google The Cosmic Perspective” in my copy of The Pluto Files and handed it off to me.
ME: I… thanks. Nice to meet you.
NDT: Nice to meet you, too.
I spent a few minute admiring a fellow audience member’s “Star Stuff” tattoo, and then I left, clutching my copy of The Pluto Files and feeling a little embarrassed. Though I suppose I do have bragging rights: I am officially less down-to-earth than an astrophysicist.