of Newtonian physics, chance encounters and brief musings on self


Eventually, we’re going to get drilled by an asteroid or something.

The universe is a vast expanse, fully incomprehensible and filled with various stuff. Amidst all this stuff is our little marble of a planet, within that marble are the specks we know as us. Also amidst all this stuff is more stuff, flying about. Objects in motion, tending to stay in motion. One of those objects took out the dinosaurs. Another thought one was a meteor, but found that the Galactic Empire was coming. (wait, that didn’t actually happen?) Still others come around every 78 years or so, dropping by en route. Others people thought one hid a UFO coming to take them away and killed themselves to become celestial stowaways. For most of us novice observers of the night sky, we are simply satisfied and goosebump-y with the occasional shooting star. For those of us blessed to live closer to the poles, we are treated by the atmospheric/magnetic interference known as the northern lights. None of that impacts, but still impacts.

We are, putting it mildly, enamored with the stuff that flies around. It comes to define us, shape us. Signs and wonders from which we try to define ourselves, derive meaning for our existence.

I just got up to get a fresh cup of coffee here at this local rendition of a national establishment. A woman, likely little older than myself–and, make no mistake, I have become old. old.–stood at the Hazelnut dispenser, getting every last drop for her mug. I politely stepped aside her to get some [vastly overrated] dark roast and some skim milk to lessen the acidic aftereffects. (You see, coffee hits my stomach these days and, without the aide of milk or cream, turns it in knots. Meteors aren’t the only things that wipe out.) Perhaps she was overly concerned about her precious mug, but for all I know, she might be The Blank from Dick Tracy. I couldn’t tell you what she looked like, and I stood inches from her. What’s more, she in turn probably wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a line-up. She had sealed herself off from any impact from anyone; her hazelnut dominated her concern. I know this, because I glanced up and saw nothing but her helmet of coiffed hair, blinders.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an external force. A gunshot, a hot splashback, a simple hello. Or simply being aware of one’s surroundings. Listening to music on headphones, writing for one’s sparsely-visited blog, sitting in a corner booth.

The point–and there actually is one!–is that collisions happen. We, too, are people flying around, mostly oblivious to the other people who, too, are flying around. We are the sum of our respective experiences and the people with whom we interact. Some people are a faint breeze where others are a car crash; some a fart in an elevator, others a warm embrace. And we all end up more like the moon, whose scars from past impact are indelible by the absence of wind and atmosphere. In someone else’s night, we are able to reflect light onto them.

At best, we are someone else’s satellite, who is someone else’s, who is someone else’s, ad nauseum, who is Kevin Bacon’s.

From here, it is then clear to see that withholding or being irrationally selective in our ability to be hit by meteors isn’t just problematic, it’s inhuman. The presidency has got to be the most dehumanizing of positions: he is hated by many, surrounded by few and impacted by fewer. He sits in one of the most recognizable buildings on the planet, in the middle of a major metropolis, but when in public, is surrounded by yes-men, sycophants and a teleprompter. He’s not even allowed to go get a cup of coffee, drive his own vehicle or go for a daily jog without clearing the streets. And people have the temerity to complain that those voted to elected office are out of touch.

So, too, is the homeless person. Or the rock star. Presidents, performers and paupers, together in their loneliness. One by the force of the people’s will, the other through the force of illness, circumstance or economics. (And these are irrespective.)

The pastor is to be the shepherd of the congregation (pastor -> pasture -> shepherd) and yet she is often holed up in an office for hours a week and by the time the Lord’s day is past, she needs a day of rest of her own. The shepherd knows his sheep, but only when he can find a time in between staff meetings, working on the golf swing and plagiarizing other people’s sermons online. (Will 10.15 work? I have a 15-minute window then.)

And we then have the temerity to grow indignant when our leaders are something less-than-perfect. The same can be said in non-ecclesiastical circles: professors, for example. CEOs, for another.

Sometimes, what we need is a good meteor upside the head. To collide with people who bring out the best in us, or at least make us want to be better. Collisions make us fall in love, be generous with ourselves, discover new ideas and experiences, fall on a grenade, or make eye contact with somebody. (And you wonder why people don’t like that.) In so doing we realize how little we are and yet how important we could be to someone else. The stone the builders rejected is the capstone, which is the asteroid to the neck of those who would deceive others.

Other times, we are struck by that which hurts us. We are scarred, damaged, reticent to expose ourselves to another collision. It would be naive to think that all collisions are good (naturalistic fallacy), but equally naive is the notion that all collisions are bad (un-naturalistic fallacy, as the case may be.) Unlike straight-line physics, we do [usually] have the opportunity to move out of the way or slow down. Regardless, when we are hurt, it does not impede the ability to shine, or to remain in orbit. Those collisions define us, perhaps even moreso than the former.

Who will you hit today? Who will hit you?

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One thought on “of Newtonian physics, chance encounters and brief musings on self

  1. Brent:
    Great thoughts. Reminds me of the movie “Magnolia” with all these stories swirling around and eventually colliding with one another. I was thinking the other day about when I was younger and more stupid and actually thought that I didn’t want to meet any other people or make any new friends. I was satisfied with the ones that I had, no need for new ones. Well, if I had really followed through with my stupidity, I would not have met many great people who God has brought into my life. Amazing what happens when we open ourselves up to those meteors.

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