30 October 2012

Why You are Here

Dear Madeleine,

Over the weekend, you were working intently on science homework,  related to the formation of stars.  At one point, you looked up from your work and said, “This makes me feel small and wonder why I am here.”  At the time, I think my response to you was just one of agreement, but now that I’ve had some time to consider the question and reflect upon it, I’d like to change my answer.

I have a similar reaction of wonder and a sense of my own insignificance, as I gaze up at the stars, or watch our sun set beyond the immense ocean, or hike through some place as majestic as the Grand Canyon.  I’ve also been acutely aware of man’s irrelevance while walking among the giant sequoias or searching for the last glimmers of alpenglow on snowy peaks.  As I’ve aged, I find that I seek out this atmosphere, and I’ve gained a sensation of great peace and contentment from it.  Somehow, the realization that my own trials and triumphs, while enormous on my scale, are nothing in the face of geologic or astronomical time, provides me with a perspective that gives me space to breathe.    

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder and enchantment at the breadth and depth of time and space.  We humans are a mere blip in the grand scheme of the universe, though we fancy ourselves greatly important.  This is not to say that what you do with your time here is without value.  On the contrary, your life’s work is of significance that I cannot begin to explain.  It is critical that you do your best and strive all your life to do good.

As you read about the birth of stars in their nursery nebulae, I could see you recalling chilly evenings when you peered through your dad’s telescope at the Great Nebula of Orion.  The dust and gasses in that cloud wait, biding their time as you watched from light years’ distance, for enough critical mass to materialize into a new star.  And despite that great distance, those potential stars had influence on you, though today you might not understand their impact.

The shortest answer I can give you to your question Why am I here? is that you are here to love and to be loved.

But that is probably not an adequate answer to express the truth as I know it. 

You are here to help me understand love.  Before your arrival, I believed that love had capacity.  Now I understand that it does not.  Love is limitless; it is bound only by fear, even though love is stronger than fear.  I know now that love is not a pouring in, but a flowing out, ever expanding, like the red giant stars you told me about.

You are here, not only to learn and wonder about the mysteries of the universe, but also to teach us all, because you, too, are one of its marvels.  You are here because the sun and the moon conspired to create a bright, snow-dusted spring day lovely enough for your arrival. 

You are here because I am here, your father is here, and your grandparents are here.  Your ancestors - all of them - collaborated on a centuries-long project, the current iteration of which is you.

You are here to find something, although you don’t yet know what form this treasure will take, what questions of yours it will answer, or what paths it will lead you to explore.

You are here to be kinder than you need to be, to ask questions that are difficult to answer, to create something with the tools that you will find.  You are here to take care of others, to make soft, cozy dens that will shelter us from the harsher elements of life.  You are here to help others be less afraid.

You are here because it was time.  And watching you, I think of what felt like an eternity as I waited for the critical mass required for you to materialize.  The universe needed you and had prepared this space and time for you to bloom.

With much love,


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