This I Believe
I believe that nature is meant to be transcended.
Two partridges were nipping buds this morning in a young yellow birch silhouetted against the as-yet-unbroken field of snow and the brown dirt road below, still hard from last night when a vivid three-quarters moon lit the night 10 degrees above zero. One partridge, slightly bigger than the other, seemed the pioneer, balancing its fluffy, handsomely striated mass out towards the end of each dipping twig, while the other, close behind or a couple of branches above or below, reached or bent its crested head for a morsel in concert with its companion.
These birds were a self-sufficient and watchful couple, hopping or sometimes fluttering to an adjacent branch or nearby tree as changes in the wind or sound or distant motion prompted. It occurred to me that I could shoot and eat these birds, each with his or her own life as precious, perhaps, as I consider mine. In fact, I did shoot a partridge once, about 30 years ago, the last time I hunted, and it shivered as it died. I wept. The meal we had, though, was delicious and deeply satisfying, as no sumptuously prepared store-bought chicken has ever been.
All lives, I think, are tragic. We love the birds of the air, and all wild things, and our dear, warm cats and dogs, and our parents and our children, and all beings who have ever lived, amazed or beaten by the circumstances of their existence. All die. And most require the deaths of other beings– animal, plant, or sometimes human– to sustain their own brief lives.
It could seem an evil joke for life to be so achingly beautiful, with its love and music and birds, and at the same time so finite and so dependent upon death.
I have come to believe that nature is meant to be transcended. These visions of the sublime drive us to try to somehow make them permanent. Whether by design or by random evolution, consciousness requires an un-natural, or super-natural antidote to life’s tragedy. Millions seek protection from the tragedy through a fierce adherence to organized religions, while some seek a kind of immortality through art or fame. My hope lies with science. It is the scientists among us who are taking deliberate, practical steps to break death’s hold. I believe that life itself requires that the hard sciences be pursued or supported by individuals and governments throughout the world. My moral/ ethical code holds that those who live lives that in some way are supportive of free inquiry are good, and those who deliberately destroy or impede such individuals are evil. A kind of moral calculus based on such a code could conceivably be applied in situations large and small.
Most scientists are looking for the secret of life, whether they’ll say that to you or not. And some amazing and heartening progress has been made where freedom of thought flourishes. In biochemistry, decoding the human genome and further exploring how cells interact and how they convert ambient energy into biological systems, lead toward cures for cancer, old age, and all other afflictions. In physics, the search goes on at the subatomic and astral levels for the causes of gravity and of time. And if mass and energy are two forms of the same thing, as Einstein’s equation suggests, then one day consciousness should be able to transition to the material, and then transition back again. Could it be that the aim of all life is to literally become one with God?
I used to teach high school English. The unrequited longings of the poets led me to seek solutions, which led me to study science and mathematics. As a math teacher I sometimes explained myself to students by saying, “In English I used to teach fiction. Now
I teach truth.”
Recently retired from teaching, I now hope to go back to college as a science student, and, while my energy and health hold out, honor that great work with my efforts.
In the unlikely event that I reach a point where I am able to try to make some contribution, I will have been motivated by my reverence for life and the images that sustain it. Among them in the back of my mind will be the image of two partridges in a tree.
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