28 September 2013

27 September 2013

"There's two kinds of stardust."

"You see the woman cooking bacon?" They were standing in the middle of the kitchen, looking towards the gas range, listening to the sizzling. The woman pushed around the slabs of meat, staring out the blinds, daydreaming. He was dreaming, of course, one of those dreams where you have a guide explaining things to you. He was dreaming of the woman he loved- rather, of the woman who loved him- and the life she lived after he left her. She never loved bacon, all their years together; she was a vegan. But here she was. Cooking.

"Every once in awhile there will be a person in a relationship who will continue to love, even when that love is not returned. That's called transcendental stardust." And he awoke, with some floating over his face, covering the view of his eyes.

15 September 2013

The Elder Son

I've always wondered what life was like before history. What it must've been like for our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers: the Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and the countless others for whom we have no names. What we have left are fossils (bone, teeth, and tools), burial sites (jewelry, adornments, and clothing), trash pits (with the remains of animals and enemies), and speculation. Lots, and lots of speculation. The best known examples of our common thread with ancient humanity from this time period are paintings on cave walls, deer antlers turned to flutes, and a kind of compassion demonstrated by strong evidence of prolonged care for the dying and a seemingly deliberate arrangement of the dead. A certain notion of the future that goes beyond earthly planning, beyond the next few days, the next few seasons, years, and generations. A notion of the future that goes so far ahead it wraps back around.

The Neanderthals co-existed with the direct ancestors of modern humans for tens of thousands of years. Many scientists have come up with different theories of what first encounters must have been like (the Neanderthals ranged over a vast portion of Europe and Western Asia, so there must have been numerous first encounters) and why these people one day vanished off the face of the earth. Jared Diamond, for example, the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, suggests violent conflict and displacement. The same thing that happened in history when the Europeans first landed in America. A technological divide so vast, one culture could not help but completely dominate the other. It sounds like a sad fate for a people where much evidence suggests an intelligence on par with modern humans, a cranial capacity on average exceeding our own, the possession of a gene closely linked with advanced language skills, and a culture that valued the injured and held a capacity for a concept of the afterlife.

Others suggest climate change. Still others a volcanic eruption. None of these theories are mutually exclusive. They could have all worked in tandem, contributing collectively to the sealed fate of an ancient race of human beings. But an alternate explanation has come up in recent years, thanks to more advanced techniques in DNA analysis. That is, one of interbreeding. About 1-4% of modern European and Asian genes are believed to be inherited from the contributions of the Neanderthals. These genes are only present in Africans when present in both Europeans and Asians, but not the other way around, suggesting that these traits were brought into the gene pool after migration from Africa.

Paleontologist Björn Kurtén wrote a fictional account of a possible scenario playing out involving interbreeding. He called it Dance of the Tiger. In his short novel, he imagines a world where the Neanderthals are enamored when encountering Cro-Magnons. Their height, softer facial features, darker skin, ability to make speech with fluency and ease. All these things came together and captivated the hearts of Neanderthals. Whenever they could, they would interbreed. The only problem was, and this is supported by the same DNA analysis mentioned earlier, that when a Neanderthal woman had a child with a Cro-Magnon man, their child would be infertile. Much like when a horse mates with a donkey to produce a mule. However, when a Cro-Magnon woman had a child with a Neanderthal man, this was not necessarily the case. But DNA evidence suggests that in order to account for a 1-4% contribution to the overall gene pool, this only happened about once in every 30 years.

In other words, according to this theory, an entire race of humans died off because they loved other humans who did not love them back.

05 September 2013

"Son of David, don't pass me by!"

Do I have a simple summary of the thoughts and feelings these words evoke? Not exactly. I'm not there yet in my journey. For now, I have disjointed reflections, not firm conclusions. I have tangents and stories, not three point summaries. Reader be warned.

Cause I need more. The words came alive to me at a soup kitchen in the heart of San Diego, God's Extended Hand. A black minister and a couple members from his church came to share the good news with the homeless. He stood at the front of the room and illustrated how desperate Bartimaeus, called the blind beggar in the passage, must have been when he realized Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. They wailed, they bellowed, they pleaded in desperation, following the man passing by who seemed to be his only chance at a normal life. That's all he wanted, Bartimaeus, a normal life, and he wasn't about to hold back now. So he cried out, he pleaded, he begged; Bartimaeus, the blind beggar.

More than a fairy tale. How can you believe in the resurrection? How can you not? There's something compelling about perfection—it's the reason why we still study the ontological argument. You can't will something to be simply because it should. I mean, you can't expect reality to bend to logic's conclusion. Still, that gap exists between what should and what is, what could be and what has been. And I don't think that's a coincidence. I think there's meaning in the chasm, there's treasure in the tension.

I need someone real. I know a few people who are disconnected from reality. I was once one of them. If there is such a thing as a spiritual reality—think of it as an alternate universe, the other side, the end of the tunnel, where the wormhole goes, or whatever else you'd like to imagine—then surely it is a real as physical reality. The reality we live in and speak in and breathe in today. Then it's not merely something, it's someone, we desire. Martel's Ultimate Reality. The pinnacle. The ideal. The utmost.
So would you come?
Would you come?
If I begged you, would you come closer to me now?  
Son of David, do not pass me by,
cause I am naked,
I'm poor and I'm blind.
 

04 September 2013

"One of these things"

Where is the world we long for? Is it a figment of my imagination, this alternate reality where good prevails, patience wins, and virtue abounds?

***

I've found it, he said, dusting off an old manila folder as he pulled it from a bookshelf. I wish I had kept it in better condition. It's okay, she consoled. Open it.

He smiled at her before revealing the contents of the old folder. Handwritten letters and correspondences between lovers. Folded up notes. Construction paper hearts. All the little memorabilia he had kept over the years, for one reason or another. He had, after all, won her heart. After years of pursuit. After years of solitary longing, and secretly pining over her. She had finally given in, one day, to his advances. She had accepted his proposal for marriage. Their plans were in motion. Their life together was about to begin.

Was it the grand overtures of love? he asked. The ring, surely? My relentless affections for you? How about my steadfast faithfulness?

No, she said. Calmly pressing her fingers to his lips. Shushing him. It was one, and only one thing, and I won't tell you before we're married.

Really?

Really.

And they kissed.

03 September 2013

Still

I.

Do you still believe in a world that defies understanding? Is it possible that the unobservable acts in ways that we simply cannot comprehend? A seven year old opens a book amazed to discover that there are dragons inside. A three year old opens a book amazed that it opens.

II.

Try, just try, to imagine a new color. Think really hard about the perfect tone for your new musical note. Come up with a story, a story about anything that hasn't been told yet. It's not that we're scared; it's just that we're delicate. The tools we have to deal with the world around us, what we call "reality", are limited by the mediation of our mental faculties. We have our senses, indeed, but even as we can perceive certain patterns and attribute correspondences of these patterns to certain kinds of truths, we can only categorize them the ways we know how. It's like a spreadsheet with several columns, and sure you can order the items by weight, and size, and color, and put whatever you want into each row, and do whatever else you'd like—but how do you take the square root of the burden of a guilty conscience, how do you find the tangent line to the mysteries of the heart, how do you find the rate of change of one's affections for another's? These things cannot be measured, cannot be classified, cannot be dealt with by the natural tools and familiar ways we all operate in.

It's language that we use to describe language, but the confines of language we all long to escape.

III.

I don't know if you see what I see, but we tell each other so.