When I was growing up there was only one explanation of heaven that made it sound remotely appealing: the idea that lambs would lie down lions. I was fixated on animals as a kid and the idea that predator and prey might set aside their differences to cuddle satisfied my adolescent yearning for cuteness. Religion was a thoughtless encumbrance when I was growing up, it was always there, ruining my wont for fun and implying guilt for having done something like drinking soda or stealing a cigarette.
Heaven sounded like an awful place, quiet and pious, like an eternity spent at your grandparents house surrounded by outdated furniture and weird smells. But if there would be animals there, then my eight year-old logic admitted that a case could be made for such a place. I didn’t realize lions and lambs aren’t always pitted against one another in mortal combat, this is a trick of development and community as much as it is genetic code.
One of the biggest arguments against atheism is that something can’t have come from nothing. Peering back into the history of the universe, no one in science can account for the origin of any of the matter in the big bang. Because its origin can’t be attributed to any scientific law, it must be proof of the existence of a creator. Stephen Hawking points out that if the conditions of the big bang had changed in any small way, and the resultant rate of expansion of the universe had been altered by one one-millionth of a percent slower or faster, the necessary conditions to form planets, and sustain life on them, would never have been met.
We cannot account for our origins, the “something” from which the universe sprang, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that there is a great deal of nothingness waiting for us. Leonard Susskind described the theory of conservation with an example of an ink drop falling into a bathtub.
As the ink diffuses, eventually becoming invisible, it would still be possible to determine where that ink had come from, from what height it had been dropped, what shape and size the dropper had been, and how much ink there might have been in it. The only stumbling block is that we’re not that good at math yet, and we don’t have instruments fine enough to detect the movement and energy exchange of sub-atomic particles.
While we will eventually be able to infer a great deal about our origins, and the origins of the stuff with which we are made, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe our ends will be divine. The ink may have come from a dropper held in some ethereal otherness above the bathtub, but it is not going to be returning to that dropper ever again. Things fall apart, they don’t fall back together again. If there is a heaven somewhere, it’s behind us, not waiting up ahead.
When my other friend N left for New York last year she told me to be thankful for the brief romance we had. We had the best part of any relationship, she said; the idealistic beginning, when everything is in orbit around the center of gravity that inevitably becomes more and more distant over time. We got the warm glow of those first moments, the big bright bang, the smiling hello.
If you look back on these experiences, it’s mind-boggling. It’s all but impossible to imagine two specific people might have bumped into one another and felt some common and innate gravity. To follow the history of each of our separate lives up to that point of meeting is to tempt the notion of fate. A cosmic sneeze could have thrown the whole thing off. The odds are two in seven billion, which is close enough to zero so as to be considered null. And still it happens; all the time, everywhere, and every day.
And then, almost as soon as it’s happened, by the very nature of its origin, the interminable drift begins. The interim is a process of holding on for as long as possible against the pull of infinite dissolution.
I hardly knew Rannie. I used to get her emails in the mornings when I’d come into the office and turned on my computer, rifling through the days first wave of press releases. I saw her a few times at parties and press events, we made small talk. We had a common interest in a charity.
Today she’s gone. But I can still remember her when. And so I will. For as long as I can.