Three powerful commentaries on the nature of our existence:
The first is a BBC programme called The Secret Life of Waves. My father, who died earlier this year, was very keen that we should all watch it, and it helped us hugely after his death, to know that this was what he thought, and wanted to share with his children and grandchildren.
The second is a lecture someone introduced me to recently by Alan Watts, It Starts Now.
And the last is a piece by Richard Hoppe, which I just love, and post with his permission:
A common remark I hear from Christians and other religionists is that an atheist must feel very alone, very isolated, very afraid of death. Not a chance.
Late every night, rain or shine, I walk my big dogs, Sherlock and Watson, usually between 1:00 am and 3:00 am. I live out in the country on 3.5 acres, and while there is some light pollution from my neighbor’s yard light, the meadow up on the north end of the place is shielded by trees and there’s a good view of the north and east sky from overhead to the horizon and half-way to the horizon in the south. When it’s clear the stars are bright. The Great Bear circles around its smaller sibling, the one with Polaris at the end of its handle. Depending on the time of year Casseopia swims in the Milky Way or Orion stalks the sky to the south. Thousands of stars are in view, and there’s an occasional meteor, the moon, or a planet or three for variety.
And every night that I see the stars I think — consciously think — that I am made of star stuff, to steal Carl Sagan’s phrase. Every atom in my body heavier than helium (and virtually all the helium, too) was manufactured in stars by the fusion reactions that produce their heat and light. At the end of those stars’ lives the heavy elements — carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, iron and so on — were flung into space when the stars went nova. Later, another star and its planets — our solar system — condensed out of the clouds of elements generated in those earlier stars and in the end, after many millennia of chemical and biological evolution, those elements made me and my dogs.
So I am literally part of the universe: I am made of elements manufactured in stars. And I am aware of that fact every night when I walk my dogs.
And then there are my dogs, Sherlock and Watson. Both are strays — they chose us, coming to the house out in the country without identification. In spite of our best efforts to find them, their previous owners never appeared, and so Sherlock and Watson have stayed with us.
Sherlock is a Doberman/Rottweiler cross, the best-natured dog I’ve ever had. Watson is a setter/something cross and a goofball. Sherlock was in very good shape when he showed up, with a brand-new collar but no ID. Watson was full grown but was near starving to death — though full-grown he weighed just 40 pounds and every bone in his body was visible. Now they’re both around 70 pounds and are sleek and healthy.
And they are my cousins. That’s a fact of biology: My dogs are my cousins. Many times removed, of course, but we are family in more than the pet/master sense: we’re “blood” relatives. So when I walk them up north every night, we’re a genuine family walking together, three cousins, all of us made from the same star stuff. And I am consciously aware of that fact every night.
When I die I’ll be cremated. My ashes will be scattered somewhere, maybe in a bit of virgin forest that still survives about 40 miles south of here. The atoms of which I’m composed will re-enter the earth’s biological and geological cycles, some being incorporated into plants or animals, some sinking into the earth or riding the wind. And then, billions of years hence when the sun bloats up into a red giant to engulf the earth, boiling off its atmosphere and crust, my atoms will be flung back into space, riding the waves of matter and energy that the sun throws out in its spasms.
So I am connected to the universe on both ends, from the creation of my atoms to their final journey to the stars. And I’m connected to my animals and to all life on earth. How much more connected can I get? I am directly linked into the physical universe, made of atoms manufactured in stars, and I am an integral part of the family of all life, cousin to everything that lives. I’m not alone, not isolated, and not afraid of death.
I won’t know that after I die, of course: I won’t know anything. But I know it now, and that’s what counts.