On the Occasion of Dust Returning to Dust

Posted: July 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

Do you know how the universe began?

First there was Nothing. Then there was Everything. Not just some of Something, or even a lot of Something. Everything that ever could or would be—all potentialities, all certainties—existed in that incomprehensibly brief, violent moment, that white-hot singularity. Everything.

As Everything exploded and expanded, it also cooled and coalesced. In the hot wombs of the first stars, Everything transformed into the innumerable Somethings of the universe, then split open their mothers and scattered farther. The scattered Somethings came together again in new ways, only to make more Somethings and split apart and come together again and again.

The increasing emptiness of the universe was flecked with riots of color and, in at least one corner, life.

That life started small—microscopic, in fact. Much like the stars that had birthed everything they could be, they came together and fell apart and came together and fell apart over and again in an unwitting mummery of the beginning of the universe.

With each iteration of coming together and falling apart, there was Something New. It took some time, but those Somethings New grew increasingly more complex. Self-awareness burst forth both gradually and all at once in at least one lineage of the complex somethings.

In that self-awareness, the cosmos could observe itself, could come to know itself. It could infer its own Birth and witness the numerous births it gave forth. In seeing its many deaths, it could also infer its eventual Death.

The really interesting bits, though, were between the punctuations of birth and death. That’s when everything happens, and in those Happenings, there arose common themes: affection, repulsion, loyalty, betrayal, happiness, anger, fairness, injustice, serenity, desperation, elation, tragedy. And so. much. more.

The cosmos continues to observe itself through a vast multitude of fractured, imperfect eyes. It does not yet fully understand itself, but it understands beginnings, middles, and ends with some measure of hard-won, awful clarity.

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My uncle died last week.

Like the cosmos, he had a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end still hurts and is still a bit unbelievable, but the fifty-nine years in the middle are really where he existed. He was a complicated individual, and it would take me another fifty-nine years to describe him accurately to you. Anything less and I’d be romanticizing him as much as I romanticized the history of the cosmos.

My uncle was a big part of my life, a fixture. And now that fixture is gone, and I keep thinking it’s some kind of ill-advised joke. He was always a big man, even after the cancer and the chemo had waged their war on his body. Now that he’s reduced to ash, there’s nothing left even physically of that bigness. When I try to comprehend it, I get a 404 error. File not found.

I knew him my whole life, as you might expect, and he was by turns thrilling, annoying, surprising, disappointing, loving, distancing. He was incomprehensible sometimes, but he loved his family fiercely and would do anything for us. He was a wonderfully complicated human being who is now fixed forever in the past tense.

He was made of star stuff, and I think he lived up to that heritage. But even that thought—equal parts Carl Saganesque mysticism and literal truth—is a weak balm against the rawness of the present.

I just hope the cosmos knows itself a bit better having observed itself, ever so briefly, through his eyes.

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