Existential Weeds and Exo-Planets

November 13, 2017

I’m a freak about my lawn. The whole exterior aesthetic of the house actually. Lush green grass. Bold edges trimmed along the driveway and landscaping. It’s therapy for me. Cheaper than a shrink.

One of my pet peeves is when grass or weeds grow out of the cracks between the driveway. They shouldn’t be there. I’ve done everything I can to prevent them. I’ve taken extreme measures. I’ve created the least hospitable environment that I can.  I’ve calked in sealer, used weed killer, and pulled up every sprout by its stubborn root. I’ve done everything short of using napalm. Stupid little boogers.

They just keep coming.

Which makes me think about how precious life is.

Wait. What?

Stick with me here…

How incredible is it that, even though I do everything in my power to prevent these weeds — these unwelcome, uninvited, stubborn little green pests — from coming, they come all the same? Life breaks through. As Dr. Ian Malcolm (the fictional mathematician from Jurassic Park) once said:

“Life finds a way.”

But does it? Always? Actually, if we consider the universe, it almost NEVER does. Ever.

The known Universe is 28 billion light years in scope and contains 10,000 BILLION galaxies, each with at least 100 Billion stars.

Just think about that. You can’t, actually.

Instead, just think about how you really can’t think (conceive, imagine, understand) about that, even if you try very, very hard.

The Universe (or Multi-Verse) is big. Stupid big.

And throughout its expansive vastness, we know of only one planet with the necessary conditions to make “life” as we know it possible. Conditions like the distance from the sun, the amount of oxygen in our atmosphere, the amount of salt in the ocean water, the degree of our axis tilt, the presence of the moon, and many other necessary variables — this lucky plot of intergalactic real estate that we ended up with is just freaking perfect for life.

So perfect, in fact, that I can’t even TRY to keep these weeds in my driveway from coming up. Life is just TOO possible on this planet.

Unlike literally EVERYWHERE else in the known galaxy.

It’s comical to me that NASA gets really excited when it finds even a small possibility of another planet (or exo-planet) containing even a few of the necessary hundreds of variables required to spark and support life.

And yet here I am, fortunately nestled on this Pale Blue Dot, trying with all I have to keep my weeds from growing out of the caulked, treated cracks in my driveway. My efforts being in vain.

So what, Adam?

Life is rare. The Universe and the weeds have taught us that. Got it.

But not only do we have life…

We are aware of it.

Think of the vastness of space…

The age and scope of the universe…

Think of the countless number of species on this life-bathed planet…

Now think of the fact that humanity is conscious. Aware. Thoughtful. Contemplative.

And we’re not simply aware. We’re aware of our awareness. We are conscious of our consciousness.

We, out of the whole terrible, tremendous, terrestrial plane, are endowed…

Endowed not only with the infinitely rare miracle of life itself, but to be aware of it.

This is our glory, and I believe, our shame. I think that we are ashamed of it. Anxious about it. We know, deep down that this is a really big deal. Existing is a big deal. We know it. And this knowledge leads to anxiety.

“What the hell do I do with this massive responsibility?”

Theologian Paul Tillich spoke of this phenomenon as the fundamental anxiety of living. As soon as we know we exist (which is an absurdity), we also become aware of the possibility of non- existing. Awareness of life creates the anxiety of death.

Dang it.

I think Jesus was talking about this when he told the parable of the talents. It’s in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus tells the story of a Master who goes away and leaves these “talents” (which was an amount of money) to his servants. Oddly enough, a “talent” was almost a full lifetime of work.

A full life-time. Given to servants to do something with. You follow me?

At the end of the parable the master comes back and is very proud of all the different choices the servants made with his money. Except one. One servant (eternally dubbed the wicked servant) did nothing with the talent. This guy just buried it in the back yard. The master was pissed. Even a bank would have given him interest on it. If the servant didn’t feel like using it, he could have at least came out with some interest at the end. But he did nothing. He wasted a life. A life he was aware of.

I’m pretty sure that this parable isn’t about the “gifts” we’re supposed to use for God or anything like that. At least not in the sense it usually gets taught.

I think its about this fact:

Space is infinitely vast and hauntingly void. But here… My freaking weeds wont, stop, growing.

From the deepest reaches of space, this is the only place where life is not only possible, but we are drenched in it. Embarrassed by its lavishness, its copious complexities. Life is teeming all around us.

And there you are. Reading this. You’re here. You’re breathing in and out and you’re aware of that. It’s infinitely miraculous.

It’s a gift. We’ll all be given it in different amounts. It’s grace. It doesn’t make sense and it can be a little embarrassing to think about for too long. But be embarrassed. That’s the initial groan of gratitude echoing up from your soul. Take it. Do something with it.

Just don’t bury it in the backyard.

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