In April 1973 my great grandmother, Monte Stanger, turned over in bed, speechless, reaching for her husband. Grandpa Ira didn’t think anything of her embrace. In the morning he got up to make coffee. He returned to the bedroom, unable to awaken her. The time for aiding her had passed away when she had vainly reached for him in the night.
I was eight years old when I overheard this account of grandma’s stroke-- too young to have my psychological defenses against death dismantled. Until then I’d pretended that death only came to other people’s families. Facing such forces of destruction so early led me to become a precocious little philosopher.
So, it was again at a much too tender age that I picked up Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things at Howard’s Bookstore in Bloomington. There’s no shortage of things a young man can lay ahold of in Bloomington, including an ancient Epicurean philosopher who believed that we are nothing more than atomic particles in motion. The late Stephen Hawking likened us to “chemical scum.” The rock group, Kansas, no less starkly said, “all we are is dust in the wind.”
Recently, I re-read Lucretius, noticing a critical feature of his argument. Lucretius hypothesized that atoms swerve to combine and make an increasingly complex world. Lucretius never discusses where such an unaccountable swerve comes from.
Yet, it’s some swerve! In order for the element Carbon, upon which all life is based, to have been formed in the slow-burning bellies of ancient stars, gravity and expansive force had to be minutely balanced. I’m told that the odds of this happening are like that of one person winning the lottery…numerous times… in a row. I’m no mathematician, but when the same fellow keeps winning the lottery, my bet is the game is rigged.
Indeed, the world does seem rigged, swerving in favor of life against the odds. So, you will perhaps forgive my Easter faith for believing that a Presence more loving than my sleeping grandfather one again swerved down to catch my grandmother as she reached out in the night.