Commentary, Local Commentary

Editor’s Column: Stardust Melody

The holiday “season of giving” being upon us now, I confess my hypothesis to hold that what is known as the greatly mysterious “dark matter” that constitutes over 90 percent of our universe that we’re getting to know so much better now thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope is in fact what we as humans on this planet experience in our own hearts as empathy.

It is that very real but invisible force that most of us experience, lacking in any material substance except experienced as a felt connectivity, or love, just as “dark matter” is supposedly limited (by our knowledge at this point) to gravity.

Acknowledging mine to be a profoundly heretical view that, among other things, violates the separation between objective science and human experience, I nonetheless assert that, as vast as this universe of ours is, it is not just observed, but deeply felt by each sentient entity on this planet, as we are a substantial part of said universe.

The “Christmas story” with its humble setting, guiding star, wise men and all, basically affirms that all reality, our universe, is at its source driven and governed by love, the same love we experience and practice as human beings. That’s all.

My second year in college, for the final exam of a two-semester course on introductory philosophy followed by comparative world religions, my classmates and I were surprised on final exam day to be instructed to write an essay in one of those little blue exam books about which among all the philosophical systems and religions we’d studied we personally liked the best and why.

I sat in a little carrel in the library with an hour or so to do this. I’d taken very seriously studying each and every one of the theories and belief systems we were exposed to over the previous year, trying each of them on for size, as it were. Accompanying this, I dare say I was often beset to no small degree by a deep existential anxiety laying in bed at night over the thought of my very existence.  

I had found merit to almost all the theories and beliefs we’d studied, and having grown up without any religiosity, whatsoever, I was taken quite aback by the wide array of options suddenly before me in that exam.

I then had my “aha!” moment that set a course for me for a long time to come. My choice that I completely surprised myself with, was Christianity, and it was because of the Nativity story. This, I proceeded to write furiously, was about the overarching fact that the universe is defined by love, and no particularly rational argument could match that.

I have no recollection of what I scored on that exam, but whatever it was wouldn’t have been for lack of verbiage as I scribbled my new revelation all over that little blue book. 

I subsequently undertook a pathway to graduate with honors from a progressive United Church of Christ graduate theological seminary in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, I became passionately involved in the social upheavals of that late 1960s era, myself becoming a founding member of the Berkeley, Calif., Gay Liberation Front. 

I am struck by the words of playwright Tennessee Williams when asked to comment on the fact that for years, above his work desk, was a copy of a world-famous photograph taken by the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, W. Eugene Smith. It depicts two young children holding hands and earnestly proceeding toward an opening to a garden. The photo is titled, “The Walk to Paradise Garden.”

Asked why that photo was important to him, Williams said, “I think that I always thought of my characters as I do these children: vulnerable, hopeful, lost. Now I find that I think of my fellow men as I do these children: vulnerable, hopeful, lost; a little sweet. It has made the act of living infinitely easier, kinder.”

“Life is the perpetual destruction of innocence,” Williams added. “If we are witness to this, and if we step forward and heal the wounds of this destruction, we become human; we might even become saintly. If we share what we’ve seen and learned, we may create art.”

A Stardust