Pickles have been on my brain a great deal this week. It’s not that I have been eating that many pickles, it’s just that the following sentence has been stuck in my mind all week: “My very educated mother just served us nine pickles.” This rather odd sentence was embedded in my brain some fifty years ago, and perhaps just reading this sentence awakened a similar memory in your brain as well. Several of my grade school teachers used this sentence as a mnemonic tool to remember the order of the planets of our solar system, moving from the planets closest to the sun to the planets much farther out. My very educated mother just served us nine pickles was how I learned to remember the order of the planets, moving away from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. (I am well aware of the debate about whether Pluto is truly a planet or not. Some have reclassified it as a dwarf planet, but in my mind I still consider it to be a planet after memorizing this sentence all those years ago.)
Pluto, the planet that is represented by pickles in the mnemonic device I learned in grade school, has been on the world’s brain this week as we all have had the amazing privilege of seeing the first ever closeup photographs taken of the planet at the outermost edge of our solar system. Much of the world, including me, has been fascinated by the New Horizons space probe adventure and its photographs of Pluto. The fascination with the photos of Pluto has led me to ponder just why so many people have been captivated by this. There are no doubt many reasons that people find this all so fascinating, but there is one reason that I would like to propose because I think it has a lot to teach us.
We live in a culture that is increasingly defined by a desire for immediate gratification. Advances in technology mean we can often have what we want faster and we can have it when we want it–on demand. Immediate gratification is what we expect more and more. So in the midst of this “want it now,” instant gratification mindset, I find it fascinating that this week we are all riveted by something that is the very opposite of instant gratification, something that took 3,464 days to come to fruition.
Almost nine years ago the creators of the New Horizons expedition to Pluto launched their space probe into orbit at the speed of 36,373 miles per hour. Traveling at that inconceivable rate of speed, it still took New Horizons almost nine years to travel the 3,000,000,000 mile distance from Earth to Pluto. The leaders of this project had to wait nine years to find out if it would be a success. And what a complete success it has turned out to be as New Horizons has already returned stunning close up pictures of Pluto, a planet up until now no one had even dreamed of seeing.
All of this is a great reminder that some things simply cannot be rushed and that great reward often comes to those who learn to be patient. A loving marriage takes years of patience and commitment in order for it to truly mature. To fully explore the depths of any significant passion, whether it be writing, running, quilting, or playing the piano, takes years, if not decades. Deep friendships are not built instantly, but through years of shared conversations. A deep and mature spiritual life emerges only after years of discipline and practice. Some hurts and losses take years to heal and move beyond.
I all like quick or instant gratification as much as anyone else. When I search Google for the history of how Pluto was first discovered, I want to see my results within a few seconds. When I text a friend a question, I love it when I get an immediate response. What’s important for me to remember though, is that some of the most important discoveries, lessons, and joys in life, the ones that truly open up new horizons in my heart and soul, might very well take nine years or longer to unfold.
As I ponder all this, I suddenly have a strong urge for a pickle. I sure hope there are some in the refrigerator so I don’t have to wait all the time it would take to go to the grocery store to get some!