Life is beautiful

Physics dictates that we do not feel speed. It is only our perception of acceleration and deceleration that give us any indication of our relative velocity. Here we all are, hurtling through the universe but we feel as if we’re standing still. So it’s not at all strange that as our lives gain a certain momentum, we become increasingly complacent. In our rush of daily activity, it’s easy to forget that this momentum is our own creation. When we allow ourselves to slow, things come into focus. At a dead stop, we realize just how beautiful each moment truly is.

L is for the way you look at me
L is for the way you look at me

Like everything in the universe, we all have a certain spin. It’s what gives us our sense of equilibrium. The faster we spin, the faster everything else seems to move and the more accustomed we become to our own velocity. The chaotic gyrations of our thoughts create a gravitational attraction that produces consistent results, and gives our lives stability.

Anytime we decelerate, we risk the boredom of inertia, so we ceaselessly generate activity to reduce the anxiety that comes with having to make new choices about how to relate to ourselves and our world.

Certain events like a serious illness or the birth of a child have a way of throwing us off our perceptual axis and creating a big wobble.

When my girl Natalie was born three months ago, I immediately realized that my long-held expectation that people will adapt to my pace no longer applied. Same for my belief that through sheer force of will, I can affect any outcome.

Two weeks ago Nat was diagnosed with bilial atresia, a congenital liver disease that prevents bile excretion, causing toxins to build up in the bloodstream. I just finished donating my own blood for her bypass surgery which is scheduled for 9pm tomorrow night Bangkok time. The surgery has a better than 50% success rate with infants under three months. Nat is already more than three months, but if there are no complications, it’s possible that she can live healthily into adulthood. The other possibility is that she will need a liver transplant before her fifth birthday.

Cue needle dragging across vinyl.

The Chinese say in crisis there is opportunity. I say, in crisis there is liberation. Because the way we thought, and believed and acted no longer apply. Crisis means that something has suddenly contradicted our expectations or challenged our habitual perception. Something has irrevocably changed, and whether we label it as crisis or opportunity all depends on if we are able or willing to recalibrate our spin. Forget about crisis management; you can’t manage something that has already occurred, you can only create a new pathway forward.

As someone who spends much of his time visioneering a beautiful future, it’s times like these that bring me back to the beauty of the present: my wife’s sense of humor, my daughter’s sly smile, my beautiful Thai parents, the temples I pass by on my bike, our garden, the neighborhood dogs that dash out to greet me on my runs. These days, I find beauty in the mundane, probably because I’ve ignored it for so long. And that’s the opportunity, isn’t it? Crisis reveals things as they truly are – in all their grotesqueness and splendor, when you just allow yourself to drift out of your orbit and see them.

“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.”
— from American Beauty, by Alan Ball

9 thoughts on “Life is beautiful”

  1. I hope your daughter is 100% cured from this Chris. I love that picture of her. Keep us updated please.

    p.s. I was reminded of it while reading your post and then I saw it at end… that’s my favorite quote from my favorite movie of all time!

  2. Thanks, Alex, she’s looking very strong today her 2nd day out of surgery. She can eat again tomorrow, catheters should be out, she’s being incredibly brave.
    I can’t help but think that this episode is some kind of blessing. It’s like, she’s getting the hardship out of her life from early on, testing hers and our strength and everyone has come through stronger. This disease affects 1 in 15,000 children, so I take it as a sign this kid is going to be extraordinary. God compensates.

  3. God is my shorthand for the way nature works. As Einstein was quoted as saying, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”. There is plenty we don’t understand about nature’s mechaniations, so God is a way of naming that which we cannot name. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of money and political power in exploiting people’s ignorance through religion. So when I say God, I’m really talking about universal consciousness (the way in which energy is entangled and moves in and out of ‘existence”. There’s more than just physics here, otherwise it could all be easily explained in numbers.

  4. Ah, so you believe in Spinoza’s “God”.

    You say science can’t explain everything, and as it stands, that’s true. It hasn’t all been explained yet, but hey, what are a couple hundred years of scientific breakthroughs when compared to the sum of our existence here on earth.

    Moore’s law dictates that computer processing power doubles every two years, which also means that our research capabilities improve exponentially. Imagine how much more we’ll know about the universe when Natalie reaches her middle-age.

    I just hope mankind doesn’t screw itself before it gets a chance to unlock the “secrets of the universe”. Right now, the situation is looking rather glum for us.

  5. Barclay’s law: imagination + commitment = reality. Be very careful about fearing for the future as you are contributing in a way to that outcome. And I don’t think that science on it’s own, no matter how much computing power we have at our disposal, will ever be able to fully explain the universe. We are looking through a drinking straw at the universe and even if we double its length every 2 years, it’s still an infintessimly small field of what’s possible.

  6. Chris, I don’t have a sage passage to share, but want you and Nam to know that my son Aidan and I pray daily for Natalie.

    Best wishes,

    Greg and Aidan

  7. Hm.. I liked the drinking straw illustration but I’m not sure it’s valid. I mean, we’ve gone from believing that rain is caused by the gods blessing our crops, to building a machine that manipulates subatomic particles and recreates the beginnings of our universe (the LHC). The time it took for this progress is an evolutionary eye blink.

    Occasional, however, my views will align with yours. So far, science has been good at explaining the “how” but pretty lousy at explaining the “why” (why we are and why the universe is). Perhaps, then, this is what falls out of the scope of the straw.

  8. Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.

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