I do not tell myself stories about heaven and hell, or about salvation of the soul, or the curing of the human condition. I tell myself a story about a vast, deep, and timeless ocean. Everything in it is water, whether the water’s deep, deep down in trenches of unfathomable depth, or up near the air and the sun. The ocean is motionless through most of its watery bulk. But across the face of my ocean blows an interminable wind that whips up waves from the hushed surface. Most waves are small, only ripples in the water. Some are bigger and last longer before returning to the ocean. The tallest waves are the rarest. Their crests are elevated enough to break and look back down on themselves. Through this metaphorical ocean, I understand who I am and where I come from, and what might be my possible purpose in the Grand Cosmic Scheme of Things.
Like the water in the ocean, everything in the universe is made of matter, from bedrock to humans. Most of the matter in the universe takes an inanimate form. Some of the matter takes the life form of a wave. The more intelligent the life is, the higher its metaphorical wave. Humans – to the extent of our knowledge, a bizarre eccentricity in the universe – are the waves whose crests have broken. We have, somehow, acquired the privilege of perspective and self-awareness. Whether the wind that moves across the face of the water is the spirit of God or something else entirely is the subject of sundry religions and philosophies.
I don’t believe that a higher force of any sort raised us from the rest of the universal sea – I have faith in more empirical explanations. I believe in the Law of Conservation of Mass, that matter can be neither created nor destroyed – a comforting certainty. In physics, this law determines how matter interacts in a closed system. When applied to a philosophical situation, the principle endorses a sort of transposed reincarnation: my soul, my self, my individuality will be gone, but the atoms, the molecules, and the actual “stuff” of life will remain. Before I was born, my physical form was something else; after I die, the body that used to be mine will become something else. I don’t know what will happen to my mental form; I’ve heard there’s also a Law of Conservation of Energy. But I do know that every ocean has a shore, a shore shaped over centuries by the protracted, deliberate pounding of waves against rock.
By finding a lasting purpose in my life, I do more than use my sentience to its full advantage. I have a chance to shape the world and live beyond my wavelength. The kinetic energy of my wave can be used to alter the rock face of a seaside cliff, to carve a cave in a tract of jutting land, or to grind unfeeling boulders into sand. Because one wave alone can’t erode a rock, I have to believe that other waves will come after me and help finish the job. I am a transient being, but a hopeful one. I believe that life transcends the mere existence of the one who lives.
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