No, not abandoned puppies, Titanic, or that time the revenuers came to take grandpappy away, except grandpappy wasn’t going to go down without a fight. I’m thinking about things that, in and of themselves, don’t intuitively lend themselves to making one feel overcome with emotion, but which hit you just right.

For me, it’s astronomy. I wish I knew more about it, but my natural incompetence with math and my laziness in doing nothing to overcome said incompetence have kept me from developing an understanding deeper than “Space is big” or “Them there Hubble pictures sure is pretty.” Still, if there’s a video out there about just how big the universe is and how we figured out our place in it, chances are it’s going to make me cry.

For instance, the big one. Every single time:

Or this one. This doesn’t get me every time, but the first time the picture of the deep field popped up, I broke down in the middle of my office hours and was lucky that none of my students or colleagues happened to walk by:

Or—and this one makes me think that there might be something wrong with me—when I think about the Voyager probes, still floating out there on the outskirts of the solar system, and still working for the time being, until they run out of power in another decade or two and then float into space forever unless, by chance, something happens to pick them up.


Even though it might indicate that I’m unhinged, I think I understand why that one gets to me. Just try to imagine Wall-E floating out there, sending back the occasional beep, but otherwise destined to wander space aimlessly. If you can do that without getting choked up, you are a soulless monster.