--A September 17, 2015 Focus Lecture for the WomenExplore Fall Lecture Series
“What Matters to Me and Why?”
ONE It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
For several evenings, my brown and tan, Domestic Short Hair Rescue Cat, Shao Lin, had been staring intensely out of the window, looking up at the stars. Unfortunately, this particular night’s weather forecast indicated persistent clouds, curtailing her research.
And so she now sat across the room with her tail thrashing irritably, her grumpy, green-eyed gaze focused relentlessly on my left ankle.
Even Jean Luc, my often oblivious, but quite loving, brown and tan, Main Coon Rescue Cat shifted restlessly in his soft, white nest
on the couch. Noting the movement, Shao Lin quickly shot him a disdainful glare and slowly stretched out her front paws, brandishing her sharp, hooked, shiny nails. He was not to interfere.
Satisfied with his compliance, she now stomped across the living room rug toward me, whiskers twitching, ears back, determined
to proclaim her latest insights into the mysteries of the universe. Her Publish-or-Perish-Drive-to-Glory could be discerned clearly in her arrogant, self-righteous demeanor. At one time that familiar mandate also reverberated within my own soul, reminiscent of the Academic Sandbox in which I had spent nearly four decades, running fast with scissors.
Her narrowed eyes filled with, “Why?”.
“Why what?”, I wondered.
“Why ANYthing?!” Finished with her terse, ontological appraisal, she marched stiffly, tail high, back hairs up, toward her litter box, with not a backward glance at me, the Inept Unfurred One.
Devastated, I decided to shore up my defenses by sending:
A Text Message to God
Dear God, please exist, and if you do, please consider my desperate inquiry.
I know you could have made me a speck of dust floating in the breathtakingly vast, expanding universe; or a bright photon of light, zipping along in its wave of particles; or a mysterious bit of Dark Energy lurking within ninety-five percent of everywhere.
In fact, You probably made me all of these things, at one time or another. Except I wasn’t an “I” at the time. Just an Eye of a rather large, Bang up Storm in the Dark Night.
Or You could have made me a rock. It would have been ok. I wouldn’t have minded. Really. Why make me a Consciousness, only
for me to be painfully aware of my own eventual demise?
I ask these questions in earnest. Why not? I have an opposable thumb. I walk on two legs... mostly. I did reasonably well on my SATs. And yet, answers to these questions consistently elude my understanding.
I waited for God’s response... [pause]
Finally, a Text Message From God!
[low voice] My dear, beloved creation,
You can be such a persistent pain in the ass.
Go live your precious life, and we will meet again, by and by, at the Gate, near the Tunnel, where I will answer ALL of your inquiries.
I have to go now to recharge my iPhone 5s.
Love and kisses, God
TWO A Star Filled Insight
It was early Friday evening when my mother picked me up after work, from my Grandmother’s apartment, where I lived during the week. It was now late Saturday night, as I perched on the arm of the fuzzy, navy blue couch, next to her in the darkened living room, as she stared anxiously out of the window, hoping her husband, my father, would come home. I watched, focused intently on her tears, as they slowly moved down the sides of her face, sparkling like stars from the reflected light of the street lamp outside.
Hoping to comfort her, I offered, “Mommy... I’M here!”. She glanced at me, patted my upturned, little, five year old head, and immediately resumed her dedicated vigil out the window. I looked out of that window as well, up at those same stars, at the bigness of the night sky, and understood that I would never be of real interest to either one of them. I also understood that the opposite of love is not a heated hatred, but rather a room-temperature indifference that slowly starves the soul.
One day in third grade, Sister Helen George mentioned the word, “infinite”. Puzzled, I asked her what it meant. She explained
that it meant something that “never ended”.
Later that afternoon, walking the one block home, I tried out my newly won knowledge by wrapping the concept around numbers: “One... two... a hundred!” (I was impatient.) ”A thousand. A million... plus one more! A bazillion, gazillion trazillions... plus one more!” An electrical storm swirled in my mind as I ran up the stairs to share my newfound, thrilling insight with my grandmother. ”Bocky, forever means infinite! Infinite goes on forever... plus one more!” We laughed together. Then, over our lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches, we talked about the bigness of the idea.
After a while, her face became very serious as she clarified that not everything was infinite. Some things did end. That in time, even people would end, that even she would die. I was startled. I never thought she would not be there. Of course she was infinite and would always be there! Horrified, I felt my warm tears slowly soak the front of my light blue t-shirt, as I realized with increasing shock that someday I would actually lose the person who saved my life by rescuing me from indifference. That one day I would lose the only person who loved me.
FOUR The Macrocosm / The Microcosm
My treasured pussycats are gone now, Shao Lin at 19-years, Jean Luc at 18. They both died 2 days before Valentine’s Day, two years apart, in 2012 & 2014. Sometimes I find myself wondering if Shao Lin has decided to bite Jean Luc, or if they’re both only memory energy-activating synapses in my brain. And then I wonder, since those same brain cells communicate through tangible synapses, where is the tangible part I call “me” located, the “me” who activates those synapses.
But for now, I’m the only one staring out of my window at night, looking up at the moon, the stars. Even though I realize they’re burning rocks, or exploding hydrogen, or dazzling White Dwarfs, yet from my perspective, the night sky looks much like a navy, velvet cloth, with benign, friendly, scattered pinholes of light. If we manage to look behind the cloth, will we find The Magic Wizard,
or just more layers of Multi Universe cloth?
Immersed in wonder, I sense the amazing vastness of the Cosmos, the MACROcosm. So big that even if I drove my impressive, 2013, silver, 6-cylinder, Honda Accord EXL, at the Speed of Light, 186 thousand, 282.4 miles per second [whoosh!], that fast, it would take just one second to span a distance equivalent to the 24,901-mile equatorial circumference of the earth... nine times! And it would take 2.5 million light years to reach our nearest galaxy, the Great Nebula of Andromeda. Never mind that at that speed, SpaceTime would slow down my ageing process; I would still be getting rather long in the tooth...
And when I think of the other direction, the smallest of the small, the MICROcosm, I am overwhelmed at the concept of something billions of times smaller than the very atom itself, whose protons, electrons, neutrons and nucleus were once thought to be the tiniest bits of matter. But now we know from studying the Quantum, using the five billion dollar, 17-miles in circumference, Hadron Particle Accelerator Collider in the CERN Control Center [European Council for Nuclear Research] near Geneva, Switzerland, that the Microcosm is like its own universe, where physics folds in on itself, contradicts our beloved notions of how matter exists, and teases our minds with being in two places at once... but only when actually looked at! Matter becomes an entity so miniscule that I cannot use an ordinary ruler to fathom it, and instead try to simply imagine I have magically become the smallest unit itself, the very beginning of matter. Is there consciousness here? Is all matter composed of willful consciousness, enveloped within energy? Is this where consciousness begins? If matter goes so deeply into smallness, will it flirt with the infinite, or eventually simply disappear into nothingness, as our entire universe flies apart and disappears into nothingness, each one of gazillions of stars burning out its energy until only Darkness exists within the very last Stormy Night? And then, does Time stop, or Bang into existence yet again?
Or dance on a String, near a Multiverse Membrane? How can I expect to have an Afterlife if even the Universe itself will end?
Yes, I will have many questions at the Gate, near the Tunnel. That is, if the gate hasn’t disintegrated into rusty dust, lying on a dark, velvet cloth when I get there. And then I think, “OMG!“. And then, I, [low voice] “LOL!“... to quote God.
Some people’s hobby is art, or sports, or making wine, or making love. My hobby is Astrophysics. But that’s just code. Don’t be fooled. Striking as the stars are, my real focus is on longing. An intense longing for some kind of an Entity to care. To care about
me. To care about all of us. Not like a Facebook “friend”, but with His, Her, or Its actual face... if there is a face. Why make us wait
until we’ve decomposed into heavenly ashes? Why NOT now? At any rate, I’ve had more luck in my life with dorks than with
A Divine Being, with the spirited than with The Spirit, with the available than with The Almighty, with pussycats than with parents.
So... what does the Universe mean to me? It means Space, Time, Stars, Searching, Consciousness, Death, Life, Loneliness, Hope, Courage, Despair, Emptiness, Fear, Creativity, Destruction, Indifference, Intimacy, Tenderness, Love, Bocky, Us, ...God... maybe...