The Context


Out of nature comes a sense of ultimate context. Writer Gary Ferguson asks:

“…who wouldn’t feel a twitch of bewilderment to think that 99.99999 percent of our body is comprised of the empty space that exists between the electrons, neutrons, and protons — each one of those an element of the atoms that give us form. Furthermore, if you got rid of all the space, then the actual mass of your body — your “substance” — would be so small you couldn’t even see it. In fact, if we took away all the space in all the bodies of every human being on the planet, the mass that remained would be about the size of a sugar cube.”

and again

“…the fact [is] that you could blast off from Earth on a journey to find the end of space, travel a hundred thousand miles an hour for the next ten thousand years, and not be one inch closer.”

It’s enough to want to go look up into the mystery and wonder of the stars around us — or at least spend three minutes and twenty-eight seconds with the NASA image of Andromeda that went up a few years ago.

Ultimate context, indeed, for all our human squabbles and wars and love stories, melodramas, our discoveries and rich accomplishments, our acts of both cruelty and kindness, our ultimate context for anything at all that we can know or do. We rest in profound mystery.

In the face of this context and out of the obscurity of my own inner world suddenly comes this question: Isn’t it just that we want to be okay with ourselves and each other? Isn’t that it? Isn’t that all? and Is that too much to ask? Isn’t everything else implied in that?

And yet how hard it seems to pull it off, because such a goal demands we relate — reverently, I might add — to that ultimate darkness and to all that makes it up. I think the truth is that we are still not comfortable with that level of truth, however obvious it may be. It is still awkward for us, an embarrassment that our presence, however awake we may be individually or collectively isn’t more than it is in the face of the great night into which we must finally, inevitably disappear. We still hold too much of the terror of our insignificance.

We think we must be more. We must count for something. As the alien says in the movie, Contact:

“You’re an interesting species, an interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

Maybe in appreciating that, maybe we could move beyond our atomized, cut off worlds to be a real comfort and joy to ourselves and others.

Else, what’s the point?


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