Mimicking Stillness
Part 2: Very Fast

A very fast photon speeding through space (illustration) Illustration: Dominik Wendland

The “loneliness epidemic” is universal — and humans aren’t the only victims. In this anecdote, Savannah Beck tells the story of a lonely photon who is so fast he appears motionless to the untrained eye. Can he slow down long enough to find love?

Savannah Beck

Busy, busy day. I was constantly on the move, but that’s nothing unusual — just another day in the life of a photon, hurtling through space at 299,792,458 meters per second. Every so often, I hit a patch of water and get to slow down. I really have to cherish those moments, they don’t last long. Mostly, I bounce from surface to surface to pass the time.

My whole life has been like this. I’ve seen amazing things — supernova explosions, asteroid impacts, and passing comets. I watched the planets form, and I’ll watch their demise. I just wish I had somebody to share these big moments with, but nobody seems to get me. Most people, they just think of me as a motionless beam of light, but I’m so much more complex than that. Planck, Einstein, Maxwell, and Heisenberg, they recognized my complexities at least, but they never really got to know me. Instead, they obsessed over my properties, putting me on a pedestal. I became a mysterious, romanticized concept to them, a stock character in their textbooks. They debated whether I’m a particle or a wave ad nauseam — I’m both, but does it even matter? I understand the fixation: The ability to shine brightly and move at the speed of light is dazzling. But it’s also lonely and exhausting. I never get to rest, and it’s hard to form meaningful relationships when you’re traveling so much. I’m ready to settle down. I’m surrounded by other photons all the time, but somehow nothing ever sticks. We’re all just ships passing in the night…

Today was different, though. I met someone. I was headed towards one of the sparkling expanses on Mars when I noticed a powerful energy next to me — another photon on a parallel path. A glint of hope. When we bounced off of the red planet’s surface, we continued in the same direction. So far, we’ve ricocheted off of oceans and traversed the solar system. Finally, I have someone to refract with! Maybe we’ll even be able to form a rainbow together one day — ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s enough self-reflection for today…

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