advent journal: proximity matters


    After a week with my in-laws, a week where I didn’t have to work and had time to cook dinner in the evenings, I’ve had two days of double shifts split between lunch at the Duke restaurants (making soups, mostly) and evening catering jobs, one on a grand scale (520 people) and the other, a family’s holiday party (eighty people and a big house, but small by comparison). Though the two events were for the same reason, I found tonight’s much easier, and more fun, because I was in someone’s house – in their kitchen – cooking for friends. As I put platters together to go to the table, I stood in the eye of the storm of affection and connection that swirled though the house, fueled by laughter, conversation, and a good amount of wine. The same dynamic may have been a part of the larger event, but I never saw any of the people I was feeding; that was the difference.

    Proximity matters.

    My most recent Raymo readings (before my double shifts) found him talking about the dark matter that makes up most of the universe, continuing to puzzle astronomers and most anyone else who thinks about it:

    “Ninety-seven percent of the stuff in the universe,” I said,” is stuff about which we know absolutely nothing.” “It is probably the best stuff, too,” my friend replied. The turth is that astronomers do not as yet have any idea what this “stuff” is that holds the stars in their galactic orbits. (104)

    He goes on to say the thinking about what may fill it has more to do with small than large.

    Other forms of “dark stuff” have been suggested by the physicists who investigate the realm of the subatomic: hoards of neutrinos, each endowed with an imperceptible whiff of mass; or a gas of yet-to-be-discovered “gravitinos” or “photinos” or “axions,” particles a trillion times lighter than electrons, hypothetical entities that no one could have thought of them did not wander like a pilgrim among the modern kingdoms of Prester John, the worlds of infinitely large and infinitely small. (105)

    The more I read Raymo (and watch things like TED talks), the more I begin to understand today’s scientists are people of imagination, mystery, and even faith. These folks are looking into the night sky and imagining – even describing and naming – magnificently minuscule particles that might fill up the darkness. L’Engle agrees, getting to the same place by another way:

    Science, literature, art, theology: it is all the same ridiculous, glorious, mysterious language. (209)

    I drove to Chapel Hill this evening listening to stories about the climate change conference in Copenhagen, troops being deployed to Afghanistan from right here in North Carolina, among other things. Whatever the technological medium, I can be bounced around the world in a minute, challenged to take in more information than I know what to do with. The term “global village” may work as a metaphor as far as how information can be disseminated, but it breaks down when it comes to describing what holds us together. We are left feeling like the astronomers, wondering what is in the dark matter between us. Even in the smaller party this evening, I noticed those who talked to me as though I were a person and those who only saw the uniform and allowed me to become as invisible as a gravitino.

    I came home tonight to news that a friend far away is in critical condition. I found messages from other mutual friends, all of us trying to find each other in the dark, counting on our connectedness to get us through the questions we have tonight and the explanations that will come tomorrow. I stood alone in a room filled with people tonight and came home to an empty house to feel close to my friends all because of our shared pain: we needed to find each other.

    Compassion is nothing one feels with the intellect alone. Compassion is particular; it is never general. (L’Engle 193)

    Proximity matters. Like love, we feel pain when it has a face, a name. Our names, the subatomic stuff of the universe, connect us and bind us together in the dark.



    1. I think the best scientists in every time have been people of great imagination and mystery. There is truly an art to great scientific investigation, primarily the ability to see beyond our assumptions and to ask the questions we never even imagined to ask.

      And yes, proximity matters!

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