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  • Writer's pictureanniecarpenter

An Exercise in Planetary Social Distancing

Performed on Sunday 28th June at 12.20 BST as part of the para-lab field trip to Saddleworth Moor.

You are occupying your own space, safe from the germs of your friends. In recent weeks the space surrounding you has expanded. You’re probably more aware of it than you were before. Do you feel a sense of ownership over this space? Perhaps you’re one of those people who feels annoyance when others intrude into ‘your’ space. Or maybe you’re continuously aware of your actions in relation to others. You walk in the road so they don’t have to, thinking ‘Did I get too close?’; ’Should I have waited for them to pass?’ Or perhaps you’re one of those who makes a point of not caring. You enjoy the feeling of getting close, of breaking the rules.

On the 4th July our freedom increases but our space reduces.

Have you ever considered the scope of this space that has been allotted to us by the powers that be? Where does it begin and end? What shape is it? Let’s each consider our personal section of the planet.

First, look down at your feet, at your place on the surface of the large sphere that is our planet. Imagine your section of the surface continuing down in a very long, narrow cone-shape, all the way down to its apex at the centre of the Earth. What substances, creatures and materials might be occupying your space with you?

Now look upwards. If you are able to do so comfortably, lie on your back and look up at the sky. Let’s imagine your long, narrow cone of space extending up into Earth’s atmosphere. Those raindrops you can feel on your face. They’re your raindrops - or are they? Look up to the clouds where the raindrops are created. Try to locate the patch of sky that is yours. Form a circle with your thumb and forefinger and hold it in front of your face. Is this your patch of sky perhaps? Observe it for a moment. Watch it change with the moving clouds. Become familiar with your patch.

Put down your arm and close your eyes. Experience our planet: the weather, the wind, the sounds. Enjoy it while you can because we’re about to go beyond it and take our space into space. Imagine that your very long, very narrow cone is continuing its journey past the clouds and out of Earth’s atmosphere. Imagine it travelling from the Earth all the way out to the edge of the solar system. Really consider its path - don’t be lazy… Where is the Sun right now in relation to your cone? What route would it take out of the Solar System?

By the time the base of your cone reaches the last piece of icy rock held by the Sun’s gravity, its surface area will be around 12 times that of the Sun. Your very own piece of the Oort Cloud, too big to explore in a thousand lifetimes.

We could go further still, expanding outwards to other stars and galaxies. If the sun could switch off for a second, we would see the constellation of Orion overhead, with Taurus the bull in sight of his arrow. Could you be sharing your personal space with one of these stars? Don’t get too cosy in their company, as your space will scan the sky like a spotlight, welcoming in new bodies as the Earth turns.

Now slowly, in your own time, return to your immediate space. Focus on your body and where it interacts with the earth beneath you. Open your eyes and take in your surroundings: the landscape, the people. Stand up, if you’re not already. Has your sense of space changed? Are you more or less willing to share your space?


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