In the time I have left on Sol III, I defer to people more competent at arguing over the current state of the universe. I imagine the ratio of these folks in comparison to the world population to be small – maybe a portion of the National Institute of Science, some college professors, a few rogue physicists, and a slew of think-tank geniuses at NASA (give or take an astronaut or three).
You probably walked out of your home this morning not giving a damn about why the majority of the universe appears uninhabitable, or why all the observable matter in the universe is so small compared to all that mysterious dark energy and dark matter that has bright minds scratching holes in their skulls down to their fully-utilized brains.
Leave it to those that really care about mulling over the unfathomable universe. We got things to do. Places to go. People to see. Money to make. Mortgages. Rents. Dates. Kids. Cars. Parties. Politics.
Besides, we can be satisfied or nullified enough to quiet down any fervent curiosity of the makings of the vast seas of space. An episode of Nova or the Science Channel on the subject of the universe might be enough to have us ruminating a few hours before our interest turns to other things. A particular sermon on Sunday would be enough for some churchgoers to nod with approbation and move on with other aspects of their faith. Even a child daydreaming about another galaxy far, far away will eventually tire of her pondering and go crank up Minecraft on her iPad.
But then something happens on rare occasions. This could be during beer-fueled barbecues, or joyriding with your pals, or even during pillow talks with a significant other at night. We do our own amateur version of squabbling over the design of the universe. Like the way we bicker over politics, many of us grow our belief systems like a whole pizza pie sliced in two — the two sides settling as intelligent design vs. non-intelligent design.
These conversations can get pretty heated if the right (well, wrong) buttons are pushed – becoming a personal attack on one’s convictions. Like the armchair quarterbacks, we become experts without any true qualification. Because, basically, it comes down to a simple opinion. We’re either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (and, hell, we’re always ‘right’).
One thing many of the great minds seem to agree upon is that the universe is a pretty messy place with a lot out there unexplained. Some may go even far as to say the universe is a fairly inefficient place for human beings. That’s pretty much a jab at God’s interior decorating skills.
Humans have been around for a short while – as least as long as we can measure or speculate here on Sol III. We’ve come far in terms of building and designing things. From tree houses to skyscrapers, we’ve done some good work.
We’ll set up a meeting (with free lunch, of course). We’ll create new plans. We’ll use our best technology out there. And we’ll find a way to recreate the universe.
Let’s do it better this time, remaking the universe from scratch. The way we’d want it to be. The way it should be for all of humanity. We’ll execute our plan and get it right the first time — none of that Arthur C. Clarke false-start correcting phenomenon where it takes a few times before a planet becomes inhabitable for humans.
First of all, make certain there are no extraterrestrials. We’ve got enough of each other to deal with. We’ll have every planet inhabitable from every galaxy created. Or even better, make a universe with a single nexus galaxy comprising of all planets encapsulating humans and their food sources. Much simpler.
Not only will we have next-door neighbors, we’ll have next-door planets. We’ll have the ability to visit these neighboring planets with ease, spending reluctant time with the in-laws on Earth #2,657 (based on the in-laws’ planet calendar, naturally).
Imagine the efficiency of such a galaxy. The trade and commerce. And the biggest part: No questions. None about our existence. Nothing about who/what made the universe and why we are all here because, dammit, we did it ourselves.
The problem with this notion is that even if we have universe-creating abilities now, and we decide to rebuild the universe, would this discount the existence of a God? Of a former intelligent design?
Sometimes, it’s okay to say we truly don’t know. That at times our mind cannot comprehend. The logics we base on the physical and theoretical invariances we’ve built them upon may not always explain things to the meat inside our heads.
So I’ll just sit back, let the experts continue their great work of trying to explain the universe.
And, mostly, I’ll just continue to admire God’s work.
He’s a loving husband, father of three children, and owns a modest house in a suburban area where his pet dog and cat roam freely. Despite his shortcomings, he remains gainfully employed to support his family.
Upon a well-deserved family outing one night at a local all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, this man was thrown out by the restaurant owner due to the man’s overindulgence of the endless buffet policy, the reason for the ejection eventually subjected to a court hearing. The man was cleared in favor of the court for any wrongdoing, as it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man clearly did not eat ‘all-you-can-eat.’
One of the jurors, sympathetic toward the family man, was so angered by the blatant injustice caused by the restaurant owner, exclaiming, “That could have been me!”
That’s the crux of protest against injustice. It could have been you, not Homer Simpson, up there on that stand demanding justice.
The circumstances here are farcical and dismissive because – well – it’s a freaking cartoon. I tend to escape to cartoons during times of crisis. Something funny to drown out the media buzz that either boil or mislead human emotion. A day watching cartoons with the kids beats the drumming negativity howling on news channels and flooding through social media.
Focus on the good, not the bad. It’s a likely way to live. Impossible when we feel the outrage after so much pointless bloodshed lately, many of us taking a trembling breath before screaming, “THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME!”
The problem with empathy is that not everyone feels the same way about tragic injustice. We split into multiple amoebas, each divided portion countering the other with discord.
Some of us scream for action. Jimmy said it best from 8 Mile: “If something needs to happen with this shit, it needs to happen now.” These amoebas think they’re right.
Other amoebas say justice was served and death was warranted. And these amoebas think they’re right as well.
Then there are amoebas like me, those that simply wish it was all a silly cartoon and not reality. Because reality has limitless potential for peace only inches maddeningly close to realization. I’m not talking utopia. Who the hell wants that?
Each of us grew up with different thoughts, experiences, and upbringings. No, the playing field is far from level, and every life is a unique, fleeting raindrop that exists as a watery orb before falling to the ground to dry away. Some of us clash together in mid-air on our way down, joining lovingly into bigger droplets of water, or splattering together into destructive, wet oblivion.
We must remember the color of human rain no matter where it falls from our sky.
Right now the rain falling is a torrential storm. It will quiet, eventually. Hopefully.
More importantly, one day the rain will stop for all of us.
Wrote this a decade ago, but still come back to it… my homage to those suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia.
The thunder of the storm roars and shudders its way into her room. When it stops, the woman hears the quiet patter of rain against her window but doesn’t look to see the gray shade of the afternoon, knowing she sees it clearly enough in her mind. Unlike the muddy silence she usually fills around her, a slight sound escapes her lips and she lets herself follow it into a hum; the hum then becoming a song.
In the dullness outside, a lone squirrel stops its forage under the cover of trees to listen. It hears without understanding, but hears with an attention that humans once knew. With the rain slowing into a whisper and the song of the woman falling back into silence, the damp squirrel surveys the network of trees ahead and begins to move on.
The day draws into dusk with the twilight somehow seeming brighter than the previous overcast of the early afternoon. It becomes enough light, mixing with the awakening of city lights as people collide.
There is a lag in the stream of bodies where a squirrel sits defiantly on the sidewalk. People slow here for just a moment, staring at this animal whose trek began earlier this day perched on a tree miles away to listen intently to a song that now fills these pedestrians with the ripple of joyous hope. It was a song of newfound strength and spirit so powerful that it echoed into this small creature. These people move on, smiling as they take in the ghost of the woman’s song.
A woman who only sang for the joy of making it through another day.
I had a story idea once about a teen girl who hacked old email accounts of deceased people.
Her purpose for hacking these accounts — besides the IT-driven creed of ‘because I can’ — was to read through the old emails of these people no longer among the living. She’d sift for hours upon days reading the back-and-forth personal correspondences of these emails that belonged to the dead, trying to understand their use of verbiage and strange writing tics so she could better convey who these people were in life and what type of personalities they had.
When she was confident of her mimicking, she would send emails out from these hacked accounts, pretending to be the deceased sending messages from the afterlife. She would get in touch with the dead’s closest acquaintances (names and email addresses gleaned from contact lists and inbox histories). Her messages included telling widows to find companionship; parents to not mourn; and children to grow up strong.
She would part her messages with, “I’ll always be here for you if you ever need to talk to me.”
Many of her attempts failed as email accounts were shut down, many of her messages blocked or left unanswered. Sometimes she’d get a reply from someone outraged, dejected or horrified: Is this some kind of sick joke? A lot of responses left brick walls she could not climb: If this is really you, what’s our son doing right now in Afghanistan?
But on the rare occasions where her fruits were answered properly, her reward came from those that wanted to believe they were talking to their lost loved one. Their replies back to her, timid and reluctant at first, had become hungry for more communication with each send. She’d respond eagerly, appeasing her audience. Perhaps there was a mutual ruse, but she felt good about herself and what she was doing. She was dishing out closure, be it false closure.
I chose not to write this one because of the big hero flaw and the fact that it really had no plot, but it reminded me of something I did while toiling social media the other day.
I knowingly sent a ‘Happy Birthday’ Facebook post to an old friend I knew that had died a few years ago, his page still active, however. I had no immediate explanation for why I did it. I just felt compelled to do it. Was I expecting this person who had passed on to check his Facebook page and go: Cool. Thanks?
Not really. But I had to send it anyway. Maybe this act has evolved into a form of cyber-shrine visit, for I wasn’t the only one that wished this dearly-departed a Happy Birthday. Nor am I the only one to engage in this type of act for just this one person. This is a common occurrence, an accepted behavior. Several messages go out daily online to or on behalf of the dead-long-past for the sake of loving remembrance.
The motives might be pure or for show, but it brings me back to that girl-hacker and what was pulling on her heart-strings when she’d read those messages to the departed, and how she’d taken on the other side and had become a virtual speaker for the dead, like Orson Scott Card turned Ender into later on. She wanted to give closure, peace and a validation of an afterlife.
Maybe we want to believe some or none of that, but something definitely pulls many of us in and makes us want to reach out and say to our lost loved ones: I am thinking of you right now, and I’m taking time out to remember you. I hope and wish you could hear me right now.
It might be in the few seconds the proverbial head hits the pillow. Maybe it’s longer, a few minutes, hours, or all damn night till right before the alarm goes off.
Your body goes through its ‘shutting-down-now’ process.
Like the No Cars Go song says: Between the click of the light and the start of the dream.
Just before letting go of consciousness, there’s opportunity.
Revisit good/bad memories.
Seethe over all enemies and plot to destroy the world.
Mentally create a grocery list.
And dammit why won’t that barking dog shut the hell up!
Sometimes in this moment I’m guilty of making up stories or writing tunes in my head, all of which will have been forgotten by morning light. Some of those stories/songs got pretty interesting, until I realized I was bastardizing the TV shows I watched earlier that night.
And now it’s 2am? Geez!
But there is a point of clarity right before that shift to sleep. I often wonder if it’s the same feeling just before drifting off into death (the non-head trauma kind of death). You get a moment to reflect. To visit your mind and see the nice and ugly things stuck there.
Perhaps that why a lot of people meditate (I should, and probably would be happier for it). It’s going to that small bridge between wake/sleep and taking control.
Fill it with peace. Fill it with happiness. Fill it with clips of the Three Stooges.
In the end, I guess it’s just about pausing and being in the present. That whole live-like-you-are-dying dogma seems to mostly work if you are aware you are actually dying. Unfathomable to some, and maybe unfortunate to those who fathom. But ‘being in the present’ is a slogan easier to chew.
If that’s the case, then why wait till the pause before sleep. Visit the mind right now. In the present.
He was the gangly Karate Kid back in 1980-something, but Ralph Macchio struck an equally nostalgic chord (pun intended) as Eugene, the wannabe-blues guitar player from Long Island. This was in the movie Crossroads, a flick that burned out those VHS heads from overplay in the Taylor homestead.
Those who’ve seen this oldie (well it’s an oldie where I come from, McFly), will remember Eugene hitchhiking the road with his yellow Telecaster, bland fedora and blazer getup, walking the sun-baked miles next to his mentor Willie, aka: Blind Dog Fulton (beautifully and unsettlingly played by the late Joe Seneca).
The movie was far from perfect, and I still swear all that fast guitar filming was sped up a half-step to sound Paganini fast (no disrespect to Steve Vai, who is awesome), but there was a scene right before the final showdown where the elderly Willie passed on a bag of Mojo to young Eugene. “I’m giving you all the magic I got,” Willie exclaimed. This is the part where a seriousness passes between the two where Eugene, who previously called ‘bullshit’ to all this devil/crossroads folklore, starts to feel that he is about to face down a real monster.
The mojo bag.
I looked it up. There are a lot of variations, but the typical mojo bag is small and can fit in one’s hand. It’s usually velvet-like in texture, with a drawstring to close up the magical contents inside. You can buy one conveniently through your Paypal account or go the YouTube route and DIY. What you put inside the bag is supposed to be magic. For some, that can be animal bones, hair, Xanax, the dung of ancestors, cat vomit, or voodoo-god-knows-what-else.
Years ago, I had a mechanical pencil that I took with me for every test during the hundred years I spent in college. The pencil was nearly falling apart by the time I graduated, held together by scotch tape and crazy glue. It’s now somewhere in a toolbox of forgotten things, but, man, did I need that pencil to cope with test-stress back in the day.
Then for a short time back in the 90s (because they were in style), I carried around a miniature, plastic troll on a key chain. It served no purpose, but I had to make sure it was with me wherever I went. If I left it at home, I was convinced something had shifted in the universe against my favor.
And for a while, index cards ruled my pockets. I had to have one everywhere I went. I didn’t always write useful quips on them like Anne Lamott suggested, but – dammit – the index cards had to be in my pockets or else I felt something was missing in my life.
There’s this three-year-old that lives in my house who swears by his blankie. It’s not just a security blanket that Linus Van Pelt would approve, but it has magic powers. It keeps the monsters away at night, and it adds an invisible shield of comfort and protection everywhere it goes. And if the magic fades, one simply passes the blanket through the washing machine to restore its powers.
Ironclad confidence, peace and security, when found, are forms of magic — especially for children. Maybe it will take a special coin, rock, or doll to help the kids along as they grow up and become adults to continue searching for new magic. Maybe it’s a lie that we tell children that eventually becomes the truth on the chance that we make them believe in themselves, like the bits of confetti we put under their pillows at night to make the next day at kindergarten tolerable.
Maybe the mojo bag is a bag filled with lies inside. And if you don’t believe the lies, the magic won’t work. You can fill it with pencils, trolls, and index cards, but what good will that do if you don’t believe in their power. It surely won’t help you beat the devil at the crossroads.
But maybe the person giving you the mojo bag has the real magic, and maybe that magic does work when it’s passed on to you. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a small bag you can buy at a gift shop in New Orleans. It can be encouraging words, a hug, a moment of quality time, or a feeling of nurturing support. And this all doesn’t have to come just from someone else; it can come from within. That’s the real mojo, right there.
In the meantime, it’s okay if we personify an object and make it house our confidence and self-assurance. Sure, let’s bottle it and sell it to ourselves. After all, it’s never about the object anyway. It’s about releasing what’s already there inside us the whole time.