A Matter of Life

A Matter of Life

I’m writing this post as something rather incredible is happening just down the street. Right now, I have a beautiful new niece being prepared for her first trip into the wider world—out of the hospital and off to her new home. She is wrapped in blankets and blissfully unaware of how momentous an occasion her birth yesterday truly was. Her parents, my sister and brother in law, are filling out the necessary paper work, probably smiling and stressing with excitement and nerves brought on by the lifelong leap of faith they have taken (again) to bring child #2 into our stunning universe.

New life begs some pretty crazy questions, if you allow it to. First, where does it come from? Yes, male and female reproductive cells unite to form a living being, but think back a bit further. Of the particles that banged into our universe 14 billion years ago, how is it that they combined perfectly to form building blocks for the matter that creates us? And then—and this is an even more mind-boggling question—what is the true nature of the spark that animates this otherwise dead combination of universal elements? What causes our human cells to divide, our neurons to fire, and our individual presences to lend the world value while we are here?

I have been struggling with all these questions lately. I am endlessly fascinated by the mysteries of our universe, and in the past few months, I’ve been making my way through books outlining the truths and theories brought to us by scientists who have—incredibly—devoted their lives to the possibility of finding answers. What I didn’t realize was how unsettling it can be to think about all this stuff day in and day out. As relevant as it all is to the life I live, it has thrown me for a loop. It has made me wonder yet again what the value of any of this stuff is—the Starbucks I’m sitting in, the tea I’m drinking, the sidewalk outside, the cars speeding by. If certain cutting-edge theories are correct, it’s all nothing more than threads of energy vibrating in different ways to create the building blocks of matter. So, any thinking person must ask: What is the point? Why does any of it (excuse the pun) matter?

Unfortunately, the only reward for wondering these questions is a big fat question mark. For me, the underwhelming number of hints it provides can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Yet my little niece gets to go home tonight. She gets to experience what it’s like to have loving parents who will someday make her giggle like crazy, cause her to storm off to her bedroom in sadness or fury, or inspire her to pursue her talents and interests. She will also meet her brother for the first time, marking for them a start to the joys and tribulations of sibling relationship management. They will fight over toys, travel the world together, and grow into different people whose values and opinions may not always align.

Isn’t all of this the true meat of life, the value granted by those perfectly-combined particles that have somehow become us? I have no answers about the secrets of the universe, but I do know that my niece’s existence is a miracle. She came from nothing, and here she is, about to start this incredible adventure we call life. It can’t be meaningless, because it’s just too damned amazing. Some strange gut instinct tells me that this new addition to world is a quick wink and grin from the force that bridges matter and meaning.

A few weeks ago, I watched a TV show that gave me an interesting perspective. It involved a virtual reality game where characters played without having any overall knowledge of the game’s purpose. It resembled a heightened version of normal life, and players simply . . . played. At one point, a character asked, “What’s the point of the game?” and his cohort replied, “Nobody knows. Some people think the point of the game is to figure out how to play it.”

I’m pretty sure this is a perfect allegory for our existence. The scientific pursuit of truth falls right into it, because ultimately it will inform what we as human beings do—how we play the game. My beautiful new niece is just starting out. What she doesn’t know and may never know (unless she someday reads this) is that she has already given me a hint, already made her first move.

Perhaps someday I’ll be able to return the favor. Until then, the game continues.