Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0974 - Strange Comfort

I've truly enjoyed this week of vacation with it's unscripted day trips.

Yesterday, for example, we dropped my wife off in Elora to visit the shops while my youngest son and I visited the Elora Quarry, something which, I am ashamed to admit, we had never done in over 30 years living in the Waterloo Region. As we hiked around the quarry and took our mandatory photographs, my son and I speculated on the evolutionary history and industrial history responsible for the formation of the quarry.

Later, at the Grand River Raceway overlooking the racetrack and eating some pub food after losing money at the slots, all three of us talked about some of our ventures this week, settling in on the trip to the ROM, the dinosaur exhibit and the show Darwin: The Evolution Revolution.

We speculated on how mind-boggling it was to think about the stretch of recorded human history, much less the time since the last ice age when everything characteristically human has occurred (such as agriculture, the chief visual of the previous day's trip to Bayfield and Grand Bend), except fire and cooking. And then, you start going further back into the evolution of the mammalian species, further back still to the dinosaurs, back to the evolution of multi-cellular creatures from the unicellular "soup", back to the formation of our own solar system, itself formed from the remnants of yet another solar system before that - all of which was necessary to the moment in time we enjoyed together.

I shared something with my wife and son then, something which I guess I might as well call "a strange comfort". It's the idea that as one contemplates life and death, particularly one's own individual life and death, there is a strange comforting realization, derived from the vast stretches of evolutionary time, that my particular life doesn't matter. Then, juxtaposed to that realization, is the opposite realization that just this very moment with the reality of loved ones beside me having fun together, it matters very much.

But it's only when the two are held together in a kind of split-screen reality that the strange comfort occurs. On one half of the screen is a visual representation of the evolutionary vista of our solar system, life, and the geological shifts responsible for the creation of the Elora Gorge. Then, on the other half of the screen, are moments from one person's life, moments of making a difference by personal effort, whether that moment is eliciting a laugh from your son, solving a problem with understanding a piece of software for a customer, writing a meaningful blog post, painting a landscape, cooking a meal for the family...and so on.

One gets comfort and meaning where one can when contemplating cancer or any other life-threatening illness. My strange comfort - now so named - is the realization that my life both doesn't matter much in evolutionary time and yet matters very much for the ripples which I create in other people's lives.

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