A Wider View
On my walk home from work yesterday, I listened to part of a lecture on the nature of science. The speaker was very matter-of-factly talking about matters of cosmology, describing the forces that contribute to the ongoing operations of the cosmos, the relationship between the sun and the moon and the earth, and the general picture of how life is produced and sustained on this big chunk of rock rotating “as on a spit” around a fiery ball. Throughout the portion I listened to on my walk, the speaker’s voice barely changed in its tone. You could never have guessed that he was speaking about some of the most profound mysteries the human mind has ever approached. He could have been reading the instruction manual on how to clean my barbecue, for all his voice gave away.
It occurred to me as I was wandering up my driveway that I so rarely take time to appreciate the absolute marvel that life is. That there should be an earth with things like rocks and trees and rivers and animals and people, and that all this physical stuff should need to somehow be conceived as a part of this story full of goodness and evil and meaning by these weird bipedal creatures with hyperactive prefrontal cortices… I take so much for granted, and so rarely stop to consider the mystery and the immensity of all the beauty and horror that is our world or how spectacularly unlikely the whole show with us as a part of it really is. A strange and amazing thing, this life…
Later last night, I read these words from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
We don’t know what’s going on here. If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite? We don’t know. Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.