Remember Andy, our extremely
very good new gardener?
Turns out he can write, too.
Here’s something Andy
wrote recently. He calls it:
Lecture # 43,567
I wonder if most people are like me and, at some point, come to the realization that a large part of who they are can be traced directly back to a singular defining occurrence. Seeing a parent defend a nameless stranger and deciding then and there to always help those less fortunate than oneself, or watching his grandfather scale and gut a freshly caught fish while describing the functions of the organs and how they all work together to give life to the whole animal and realizing a powerful personal curiosity, which would lead him to the knowledge that each of us is a culmination of our own unique experiences.
One such instance in my own past has changed me in ways that at the time I never could have imagined, and is still doing so today. It was no great historical event, or an unbelievable concert, romance, adventure or any other fanciful thing; it was just a late night conversation. Well alright, it wasn’t just a conversation
; it felt as though my entire life had been directed to this one summer night, this driveway, and these few members of my family surrounding me.
In my youth I had the great privilege and joy of growing up alongside much of my extended family. My father bought a patch of land and in short order his two brothers bought plots adjoining ours, and we had many years to grow and strengthen relationships with our cousins, aunts, and uncles. I didn’t realize until recent years how lucky we were to be so close to, look out for, and learn from each other. My Uncle Bubba lived next door with his family, and Uncle Ashley was on the hill behind our two houses.
Don’t let the name Bubba fool you, he is, without a doubt, one of the wisest and quite possibly, the smartest man I’ve ever known. He is the prominent player in this recalling although he didn’t know it then and probably doesn’t know it now, his words changed my life that night. It began like so many other summer nights in my late teen years: two of my cousins and me standing around the long driveway discreetly smoking an endless succession of cigarettes and discussing hilarious anecdotes, gently poking fun at our mutual friends, and simply having a good time enjoying one another’s company until late into the night.
Occasionally one or two others would join us in our late night reverie and this particular night it was Uncle Bubba. This was not unusual considering the variables in the equation: It was his driveway and we stood between his front door and the machine shop beside his house. Just like his nickname the title of “machine shop” can be misleading. In this machine shop he practices an art almost lost to the world. He takes various types of glass, precious metals, chemicals, other secret ingredients, and myriad ideas into this nondescript sheet metal structure and emerges with items of inspired beauty.
On this particular evening, as he stopped and gripped our shoulders with iron hands and goaded us with questions to which he already knew the answers we just continued talking about whatever inconsequential nonsense was plaguing our young minds at the time. Instead of moving on to his late night endeavors, which was the normal routine, he hung around and listened. I’m not sure how it happened but somehow we reached the topic of the cosmos; the enormously vast topic of the cosmos. Obviously this was a result of Bubbas presence and obviously the subject had been on his mind as it was clearly not on ours. As I listened to him talk about cosmic systems and the complexity of the universe around us I was amazed to find I felt more than understood something of what he was saying. Normally these “lectures” of his, as we affectionately called them were directed toward some life rule or moral guideline for us to ponder. This time though it didn’t feel admonitory or directed, it simply was a heartfelt expression of his admiration for the whole of creation flowing forth. The direction of time and space, uncountable megatons of gases burning at just the right temperature, just the right distance, just the right tilt and wobble to the earth and countless other factors to ensure life as we know it exists. He was describing to me something I’d never known about, only felt. Of course I knew details like: the sun is 93,000,000 miles away and that ice floats on water and so on, but I never realized the design behind the landscape; until that night. As this understanding washed over me like a wave of warm water, a worry arose in my mind: I now had more questions than answers.
If numbers are infinite mustn’t the opposite also be true? When does the distance between two objects become zero? Shouldn’t one always be able to measure half the distance? If atoms are mostly empty space why does everything feel solid? Why is water the only substance in the known universe that has a solid form that is less dense than its liquid form and therefore allowing the base of the food chain to survive, and subsequently giving way for all life to continue?
I voiced this concern and was greeted with somewhat unconcerned glances from my cousins and an immediate riposte from my uncle. We stood and talked well into the early morning, even after my night-owl cousins said goodnight, we discussed at length the mysteries of the universe, the complex nature of the human mind and how scientists are just now beginning to comprehend things the ancients knew all too well. We looked more closely at the stars above us, at the plants and creatures around us and the culmination of experiences that define our perspective, and ultimately make us who we are. We talked about all the minute systems that encompass the bodies in which we live, laugh, and love.
Over the years this lecture has evolved into a friendship I never expected to have with anyone, especially not one of my uncles, and the dialogue continues. After every family meal is done we somehow seem to escape the bustle of groaning, overfilled bodies and end up on that same driveway carrying on that same conversation. We have both been criticized for having our heads in the clouds, or focusing on things that don’t matter. And while he and I don’t always agree on points of history or science, one place I’m sure we find accord is in the fact that these are the only things that matter; ultimately, the only things worth talking about. These questions began in realm of mysticism and religions, studied by science, then progressed into ideology and philosophy, and have resolved themselves into a few answers for me personally. Firstly, my relationships with the people around me, and my God are the only things worth worrying about; all else is secondary. Secondly, my curiosity is a gift. I strive to learn all I can about the world around me, and remember that every person has walked a different path than I, therefore everyone knows something I don’t know and we all have something to learn from everyone else. Lastly, there is something bigger than all of us, a power that knows no bounds and directs the path of this train we call life, sending it this way and that with the flick of a finger; and while we always have choices we are all still cogs in the machine of the universe, all important, all connected. There is a system in place in the cosmos of which we must be mindful. This system is echoed from the smallest sub-atomic levels to the largest cosmic systems, and everything in between. We still have much to learn, but the more I learn about the cosmos around me, the more mastery of myself I ultimately gain. Our part begins with the careful tending of our relationships, continues with bettering ourselves daily. While the ending might or might not be up to us, it is definitely worth trying to have a happy one. Besides, it could quite possibly be simply another beginning.