I believe that reason and passion entwine to make the best life. The poet John Keats feared that by formulating the science of optics Isaac Newton had “un[woven] the rainbow,” effectively killing its beauty. I believe the opposite. In this life, everyday experiences relay marvels that incite my awe and reverence. Those marvels contain facets to be questioned and inspire me to greater understanding.
A few years ago, I was driving west into a brilliant late-afternoon sun on an Appalachian highway. My window was down so that the wind rushed over my skin. I was listening to a recording of the Renaissance composer Josquin DesPrez’ four-part choral setting of Psalm 130, De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine, “Out of the depths I have cried to thee, oh Lord.”
The singer’s pleading tones, the sun’s rays, the wind’s bluster, and the changing greenery cascaded over my senses. I felt connected to everything and yet so tiny. At the emotional level, I was aware of the interconnection of all things and my separation from those things.
As the experience unfolded, the “analytical me” watched the “feeling me” and saw the events connected in time and space. While I felt connected to everything, I could understand how I was and am genetically related to the men who sang on that recording. We are of the same species. But I could also relate to one another about the fear of inequity and loneliness that drove the Psalmist to pen his words, the composer to set them, and the singers to sing them.
The wind carried the smell of the Gallitzin State Forest to my nose. A forest whose confines house and feed an uncountable number of organisms great and small, all of them connected to me by the air we breathe and our relationship to a first ancestor in deep time. The Earth has gifted us with that air as it has moved through billions of seasons around the sun.
To the sun’s light we owe everything. Astonishingly, I am the sun’s distant cousin, related to it by the magnificent process of cosmic evolution. Here I am a homo sapiens – a knowing man – who is literally a pocket of the universe that has become aware of itself.
I am a man enamored by the unlikelihood of my existence seeing that I am one thing woven within the fabric of all existence. I believe that understanding and feeling our experiences is the greatest gift we have.