Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Black holes

Earlier this week, my husband was watching a show about black holes. I was listening from the other room, so I didn't see many of the images. However, it made me remember my own personal encounter with a black hole.

I was probably a pre-teen when I asked my father one day what happens to you when you die. Looking back, it is tempting to wonder why an 11- or 12-year-old girl would be asking such a question. But for those of you who know only the adult me, it might not be such a terrific mystery.

Anyway, my father—the product of a very intellectual, humanistic home—answered the only thing he felt he knew for sure. “You just cease to exist.”

That might have been satisfying to those who dabble in esoteric philosophical pursuits. However, it wasn’t very comforting to a young girl who had had no exposure to religious concepts. In the middle of some very dark Colorado nights, I laid awake thinking about the inevitability of my ceasing to exist. And perhaps because I tend to be visual, what I saw in my head was a consuming black cloud which would eventually swallow all that was ever me. There were accompanying tears.

In the more comforting light of day, I pondered this situation a little more logically. As I viewed the complexity of my surroundings, from the majestic mountains shouldering my hometown to the family in which I was planted, it didn’t make sense. It seemed like something of a farce authored by a capricious malevolence.

So I approached my father with the question. “If what you said is true, that we just cease to be, then what is the purpose of all this? Why do we even live at all?”

His answer was not a bad one—“To leave the world a better place than when we came.” You can live a very moral life on that basis.

But for me it did not extinguish either the black-hole nights or the questioning.

In December 2001, my father was hospitalized following a stroke. According to a second-hand report, a nurse was explaining to him why a procedure was necessary. “Because if we don’t, you could die.” Inexplicably, she purportedly continued, “Are you afraid to die?”

The report I received was that he nodded his head in the affirmative. His response haunts me to this day and makes me wonder if he’d had a few encounters with his own black hole of doubt and fear.

A few years after my initial query, my black hole was transformed into a glorious avenue of golden promise because of the principles I was taught.

Hopefully, Daddy has learned some exciting new things by now as well.