The world feels off kilter these days. Every day on the news, we hear of another instance of massive social unrest. Yet, we hear less about massive interior unrest, and I believe these two are inextricably linked. Our material crisis is linked to our spiritual crisis. Our collective suffering is linked to our personal suffering.
The interior unrest that I speak of is the Big Loneliness that permeates much of our modern culture. I can share statistics to back up the claim, but nobody I have spoken with needs proof. It is almost a given that the average person feels lonely and longs for community, especially in a city like Seattle. We are separated from each other by social structures… and perhaps by the fabric of the universe itself.
In college physics, they teach you that everything in the universe used to be all squished together into a little marble. When you ask, “If the whole universe was inside a marble, then what was all around the marble?” they will say, “There was nothing around the marble.” If you ask a clarifying question like, “Do you mean the marble was in empty space?” then they will say, “Nope. Empty space didn’t even exist yet. The marble was in less-than-empty-space.” When you try to ask more clarifying questions, if they are wise, they will say, “Hush now,” and move on with the lecture.
Then, you will learn that there was a great big “pop!,” and everything in the marble started moving away from everything else in the marble in all directions at once. That’s when we got empty space for the first time.
These were heady times!
Your physics teacher might demonstrate how everything is moving away from everything else by taking a marker and drawing two little circles on a deflated latex balloon and then start blowing up the balloon. As the teacher blows up the balloon, the the two little circles get farther apart. Even the circles themselves are growing in diameter because the space on which they are drawn is expanding. That is like our universe. Everything is inflating and growing farther apart, even empty space.
I recently shared all this with my daughter, and she asked, “So, we are growing farther apart?”
I replied, “Yes. It’s sad, but the space between us is always growing, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”
So she leaned in and hugged me. She did not let the arcane, invincible, universal power stop her from coming close to me. She vaulted across the ever-growing abyss with her young, fragile, meager power. She reminded me that an open heart and fierce will can be better tools than an incisive philosophical diagnosis of our crises.
There are mighty forces at work that pull us apart. But we are able to overcome them through naive courage and tender strength.
Read more of the Jun 22-28, 2022 issue.