WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT AS YOU TURN 100? WHY NOT THE UNIVERSE, AND WHERE IT COMES FROM?

By Paul

It happens that this is the 100th posting on our Two Old Liberals blog, and I was wondering what topic might be worthy of such an iconic number. By chance, it is also just over a year now (we began on Feb. 14, 2012) since Kevin and I first embarked on this endeavor.

During that time, and between the two of us, we have written about everything from art and culture (painting, writing, film, theater etc.), to family and personal histories, gay issues, global warming (including fracking, recycling, over population etc.), language, money and economics, mysticism, mythology, politics of all sorts, philosophy and values, popular culture, religion and faith, science, spirituality, the nature of consciousness, and work and what that means. And in this listing, I’ve no doubt left out several other topics that one or the other of us has delved into.

So I began thinking, what subject might be a proper one to mark this milestone, and I could come up with nothing grander than the universe itself. I suppose you could argue that all of the things mentioned above might simply be thought of as part of that universe, and no doubt you would be correct. But what I have in mind is more the nature of what we mean when we say the universe, or the cosmos if you prefer. I am thinking of such questions as: where does the universe come from, how could it appear from nothing, and are there other universes out there?

It goes without saying that I cannot claim to know the answers to the above questions, if there is in fact anything even remotely like a single answer to each of them. Far greater minds than mine have grappled with them, and they, too, have come up short. Still, I believe that such queries are quite legitimate ones, and in fact all human beings ought to ask them of themselves. They are, indeed, the most basic questions that we can possibly grapple with.

It is also true that these kinds of queries bring us to that mysterious borderland that exists somewhere between science and religion, or if you prefer (as I do), between science and spirituality. There was a time when science would not touch such questions, would not even contemplate them, inasmuch as they were considered to be outside its boundaries. But those borders no long pertain. Nowadays, science does not shy away from them, because tools have been developed which bring us to the very heart of such queries. Telescopes have been made which can peer back into the past and see the very beginnings of the formation of the first stars. And there are other tools, too, such as the Large Hadron Collider, which open up to us the smallest of worlds, and which search out the answer to what matter is and where it comes from.

Within the parameters of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, for example (which states that you can never be certain of both the position and the velocity of a particle, and the more accurately you know the one, the less you know about the other), some physicists now theorize that fluctuations of quantum particles, which spontaneously appear and disappear out of nothing, along with something called “an inflation” (a sort of hyper-rapid boiling of space), may have been the cause of the Big Bang. As of now, of course, this remains merely an interesting theory, not a proven fact. But still, if some day such a theory – or something like it – is proven to be correct, we could then posit that this caused the Big Bang, and therefore, it was the cause of the universe itself. And if that were to be so, does it then follow that there is no longer any need for God, or at least for a God in the sense that Thomas Aquinas meant, when he spoke about his concept of the Prime Mover?

Another fascinating fact, which science now knows, is that the physical universe, or the way we think of it in normal terms anyway, that is, the visible cosmos, the world, all matter, the stars, the planets etc., all this forms only about 1% of the actual universe. Personally, I find that astounding! And what this means is that 99% of the universe, our universe, yours and mine, the one we live and breathe in, is made up of something else. What is that something else? Well, we know that approximately 29% of that very same universe consists of dark matter, and the remaining 70% is composed of a thing called dark energy. Not a lot is known about these substances, if that is even the proper term for them, but dark matter does appear to play some kind of a role in keeping galaxies spinning in their orbits, and dark energy may, in whole or in part, be responsible for the continuing rapid expansion of the universe.

But returning for a moment to the fluctuations of quantum particles in a vacuum, it could also be deduced from this that not merely one, but many, indeed perhaps an infinite number of universes could be formed in this way. Ours, therefore, the one with life in it (as we think of life anyway) is but one example of millions, or even billions, most of which might not support life at all (again, at least as we conceive of it). But where are these other universes? And could there be other ways in which to conceive of life? If so, why are they hidden from us? The answer, if there is an answer, is probably because they exist within physical and mathematical principles which are so different from, or alien to, our own that they cannot be seen, or otherwise perceived by us.

But we are conditioned to think, and to believe, that every effect has a cause that brings it about. How, therefore, can we imagine that a fluctuation within a quantum vacuum can come about spontaneously and causelessly? And if there exists such a thing as laws which govern even quantum fluctuations, to say nothing of inflations, surely it is a legitimate question to ask, where do these laws come from?

So far at least, it seems to me that everything our greatest scientists have done has merely wound up backing up the basic question of where “all this” comes from. In other words, if the original question was, what came before (i.e., what “caused”) the Big Bang, and if we now theorize that it could have been the fluctuation of quantum particles in an inflation, then the question bumps back, and we have to ask, where do quantum particles, and the laws that govern them, come from? Right now, it is posited that they come from nothing. But can “something” really come from nothing? The old mathematical question remains: how do we get from 0 to 1, from nothingness to somethingness?

Many, but not all, scientists hesitate to posit a Divine Spirit, an Infinite Intelligence, if you will. If this is the case, however, in other words, if such a concept does exist, what it surely cannot mean is anything like the God that most of us were raised to believe in. Such a God, with his likes and dislikes, and his favorites and his not-so-favorites, his anger and his appeasement, his concept of sin and redemption, all this gets jumbled up in our minds with our own human needs, our desires, and especially our fears. God (to use that word only as a kind of short hand) must surely be so far beyond such concepts of ordinary human understanding that all we normally can do is catch glimpses of him. We see parts, while The Whole is beyond our everyday range of vision. And the very least that must be said is that such a Divine Spirit would never confine himself to speaking only from the voice of, let us say, a power-hungry politician-pope, or the fear-filled raging of some ignorant preacher, condemning sinners to the fires of an everlasting hell.

No, the universe is and must be far grander than that. There can be little doubt that, whatever it may be, it is light years away from anything that we can conceive of. It is filled with mystery and magnificence and unimaginable beauty. Dark matter, dark energy, swirling galaxies, exploding supernovae, human abilities to think and create and wonder at what is beyond, and below, and within, all this forms merely part of what is meant only by our own universe. And what of other universes, which by definition more or less defy our abilities to imagine what they could be like?

These are the things that should capture our fancy and our imagination. These are the questions which ought to occupy our spirit and our intellects. These, surely, are topics that must fascinate our minds, not only as we turn one hundred, but indeed all the days we are privileged to lead our lives in this magical and fascinating world, always and forever beyond our final understanding.

“Forward on Climate” 40,000 Rally in D.C. Feb 17, 2013 — Photos from Kevin

Kevin (left) and Robert (right) bought new silk long underwear, found their warmest hats and attended one of the hottest events of the year -- "Forward on Climate," on the mall in Washington D.C. Four buses carried 150+ concerned citizens from York and Lancaster, PA to the Washington Monument, under the very able guidance of the Rev. Jerry Lee Miller, Founder of "HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity" -- See our page on FaceBook.

Kevin (left) and Robert (right) bought new silk long underwear, found their warmest hats and attended one of the hottest events of the year — “Forward on Climate,” on the mall in Washington D.C. Four buses carried 150+ concerned citizens from York and Lancaster, PA to the Washington Monument, under the very able guidance of the Rev. Jerry Lee Miller, Founder of “HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” — See our page on FaceBook.

 

Jacques Cousteau was right. A situation has indeed arisen on Planet Earth, causing all of us to join forces and demand action on climate change. Our great cities and coasts are begin torn apart by hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy. Massive wilfires are burning the U.S. Southwest. A devastating drought decimated American Midwest crops in 2012. The Earth's atmosphere is 5% wetter and the oceans are much more acidic. Half of the arctic ice mass is gone in the summer, and an area larger than the U.S. melted in 2012. Chunks of Greenland are breaking off and floating away as flash melting and seismic activity increase. Mother Earth is crying out for our protection. It is our moral duty to stop these atacks against Her by ceasing the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and switching to clean renewable energy so that future generations will inherit a planet that can support life. That is why 40,000 of us gathered by the Washington Monument and marched around the White House on a very cold, windy winter day. We joined forces to ask the whole world to come along with us in changing course for the benefit of all life on Earth.

Jacques Cousteau was right. A situation has indeed arisen on Planet Earth, causing all of us to join forces and demand action on climate change. Our great cities and coasts are being torn apart by hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy. Massive wilfires are burning the U.S. Southwest. A devastating drought decimated American Midwest crops in 2012. The Earth’s atmosphere is 5% wetter and the oceans are much more acidic. Half of the arctic ice mass is gone in the summer, and an area larger than the U.S. melted in 2012. Big chunks of Greenland are breaking off and floating away as flash melting and seismic activity increase. Island nations are sinking as the oceans rise. Mother Earth is crying out for our protection. It is our moral duty to stop these atacks against Her by ceasing the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and switching to clean renewable energy so that future generations will inherit a planet that can support life. That is why 40,000 of us gathered by the Washington Monument and marched around the White House on a very cold, windy winter day. We joined forces to ask the whole world to come along with us in changing course to halt global climate change for the benefit of all life on Earth.

 

All 40,000 of us were entertained by live music and inspiring speakers. Robert Allen gave Jerry Lee Miller a bird hat, which he is wearing in this photo as he greets trombonist Soul Furnace, who played with his band on the streets around the White House for all of us to enjoy.

All 40,000 of us were entertained by live music and inspiring speakers. Robert Allen gave Jerry Lee Miller a bird hat, which he is wearing in this photo as he greets trombonist Soul Furnace, who played with his band on the streets around the White House for all of us to enjoy.

The most popular messages seen and heard at the "Forward on Climate" rally were "Stop the XL Keystone Pipeline," and "Switch from Fossil Fuels to Clean Renewable Energy" and "No More Fracking." It was and is all about ceasing the extraction and burning of carbon that is warming the planet and making it unsuitable as a habitat for life.

The most popular messages seen and heard at the “Forward on Climate” rally were “Stop the XL Keystone Pipeline,” and “Switch from Fossil Fuels to Clean Renewable Energy” and “No More Fracking.” It was and is all about ceasing the extraction and burning of carbon that is warming the planet and making it unsuitable as a habitat for life.

It was poignant to see so many compelling signs juxtaposed against the Washington Monument and the cloudy sky.

It was poignant to see so many compelling signs juxtaposed against the Washington Monument and the cloudy sky.

There were many handmade signs carried by the 40,000 concerned citizens who marched around the White House to demand action on climate change, including stopping the XL Keystone Pipeline and fracking. This tragic and beautiful original collage-painting was the best art we saw all day.

There were many handmade signs carried by the 40,000 concerned citizens who marched around the White House to demand action on climate change, including stopping the XL Keystone Pipeline and fracking. This tragic and beautiful original collage-painting was the best art we saw all day.

As the crowd grew from 30,000 to an estimated 50,000 for the march to the White House, we listened to inspiring talks like this one from Bill McKibben, Founder of 350.org, which co-sponsored the rally along with the Sierra Club and 150 other environmental organizations.

As the crowd grew from 30,000 to an estimated 50,000 for the march to the White House, we listened to inspiring talks like this one from Bill McKibben, Founder of 350.org, which co-sponsored the rally along with the Sierra Club and 150 other environmental organizations.

Rev. Jerry Lee Miller (left) and Susan Finn Miller (right) at the "Forward on Climate" rally in Washington D.C. Feb 17, 2013. Jerry donated all of his time for well over a month to recruit and organize over 150 concerned citizens from Lancaster and York PA to fill four big buses for the rally. Jerry is the Founder of "HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity." See their page on FaceBook.

Rev. Jerry Lee Miller (left) and Susan Finn Miller (right) at the “Forward on Climate” rally in Washington D.C. Feb 17, 2013. Jerry donated all of his time for well over a month to recruit and organize over 150 concerned citizens from Lancaster and York PA to fill four big buses for the rally. Jerry is the Founder of “HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity.” See their page on FaceBook.

NOW WHAT CAN WE DO?

Here are several concrete steps we can all take to demand that government and fossil fuel companies stop extracting and burning carbon and switch to clean renewable energy:

1. We can write to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and our Senators and Congressional representatives asking them to halt the XL Keystone Pipeline, which NASA climatologist James Hansen said would mean “Game over” for the climate and our planet if this dirty carbon pipeline goes through.

2. We can write and call our state representatives and newspapers demanding a cessation of fracking and asking them for aggressive programs to promote switching to clean renewable energy sources like solar and wind and geothermal.

3. We can lobby our national church organizations and colleges and universities and other institutions to eliminate fossil fuel from their investment portfolios. Divestment worked to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. It can work again to save the planet as a habitat that will support life in the future.

4. We can all join a sensible science-based environmental organization like Bill McKibben’s 350.org or the Sierra Club nationally, and a local group like “HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” in York and Lancaster, PA (See our FaceBook page) to promote visible, audible, creative action to halt climate change. If you can’t find a local group, start one. Write to me and I will tell you how.

5. If we know how to pray, now would be a good time to do that. Our planet is right on the edge of the amount of heating it can absorb (2 degrees Celsius) before truly catastrophic and extreme events begin to make Katrina and Sandy look like child’s play.

Ask youself three questions: A) What can I do? B) What am I willing to do? and C) What am I qualified to do? Think long and hard and make a list under each of those questions. If anything at all shows up on all three lists then DO THOSE THINGS. Now is the time, because time is running out. There is certainly no time to waste. Thank you for anything you can do, are willing to do and are qualified to do to help save Planet Earth as a habitable home for future generations of human beings and for all life supported  by our beautiful Mother Earth.

"Forward on Climate" rally and march in Washington D.C. Feb 17, 2012
“Forward on Climate” rally and march in Washington D.C. Feb 17, 2012

Forward on Climate! Join us.

Yours, -Kevin

RETIREMENT, A DEGREE OF RETRENCHMENT, BUT NOT RETREAT

By Paul

What are we to make of Benedict XVI’s recent announcement that he is abdicating the papacy and retiring?

It has been said that he is the first pope in almost 600 years to do so, ever since Gregory XII in 1415. But that may not be a fully appropriate comparison, inasmuch as Gregory’s stepping down was done under a good deal of duress. It was the time of the so-called Great Western Schism, and there were simultaneously as many as three popes, all claiming legitimacy: one in Rome (Gregory XII), one in Avignon (John XXIII), and another in Pisa (Benedict XIII). Things got very messy for a while, but finally the first two resigned (again, under a good deal of pressure). Benedict XIII refused to do so, however, and got himself excommunicated instead. Finally, Martin V took over, and things began to stabilize a bit.

What may be something of a more even match is the freely, indeed eagerly, tendered resignation of Celestine V in 1294. Known for his great asceticism, Celestine (who had founded a stricter order of monks, subsequently referred to as the Celestines, under the general rubric of the Benedictine rule) was virtually almost forced into accepting the papal role. He even tried to hide in the forest when they came to get him, but the pursuing cardinals eventually caught up with him. He reigned for just over 5 months, ineptly so according to all accounts, probably because he had no interest in it and did not want the job in the first place. When he finally resigned, he said that he did so because of “the desire for humility, for a purer life, the deficiencies of his own strength, the perverseness of the people, and his longing for the tranquility of his former life.”

I’m not sure that people are any less perverse today than they were in the 13th century, but that is not among the reasons Benedict XVI has given for his retirement. It seems as though it’s because he feels himself to be too old, too infirm, and just no longer capable of attending to his duties as Supreme Pontiff. Fair enough, I guess. He is, after all, an 85 year old man with Parkinson’s disease.

Still, this decision leaves a lot of questions in its wake. Let’s just say that the papacy is not immune, nor has it ever been throughout most of its history, from politics. How could it be? The position, and therefore the man (never a woman, it goes without saying) who holds it, wields far too much power in the world. This remains true even in today’s admittedly more secular society. A friend of mine, who will remain anonymous because I don’t have his permission to name names, believes that Benedict might have resigned specifically so that he could have a hand, albeit covertly, in the selection of a new pope. The thinking, apparently, goes that Benedict, realizing his growing physical and mental weakness, decided to throw in the towel while he still had control of his faculties. And that he did this so as to have the opportunity to manipulate things behind the scenes in the upcoming conclave (the assemblage of voting cardinals that choses the new pope), with the express purpose of ensuring that a fully vetted conservative would take over as his successor.

I have no way of knowing if this was actually part of Benedict’s thinking, but again he would clearly not be the first pope in history to make a decision based on the desire to advance a certain political agenda. Indeed, Benedict’s record is a distinctly mixed one, to say the very least. On the one hand, he comes across as a somewhat benign white haired old man, a shy hermit, and a scholar. He may in fact, as an individual, possess these traits, but as pope it cannot also be denied that he has done some very damaging things.

The first, and possibly most injurious, among these is the great pedophile scandal of the Catholic Church. I am not suggesting that the pope himself physically harmed any children. However, in his role as cardinal – and later as pope – there can be little doubt that he knew of many hundreds of priests, possibly more, who did do personal and psychological harm to children under the guise of their priestly duties. And he did nothing to bring this to light. Instead, time and time again, just as we saw with Cardinal Law of Boston and Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, to name only a few co-conspirators, he made decisions which held the reputation and the finances of the organization of the Church as paramount, to the detriment of the wellbeing of children who had been grievously harmed by priests and other religious.

Other dubious acts, decisions, and hurtful comments come to mind, as well. He showed himself inordinately insensitive to Muslims early on in his career, he did little to shed light on the scandalous and illegal practices of the Vatican bank, and he inflicted great harm on gay people the world over. His extraordinary comments regarding the latter will, in fact, go down as among the most ignominious in history.

Benedict XVI has said that homosexual acts are evil and “intrinsically disordered.” Regarding same sex marriage, he is on record as accusing gay people of manipulating their God-given identities in order to suit their sexual choices, and in so doing actually destroying the human creature in the process. In regard to the adoption of children into loving gay homes, he has said that this represents an attack on the family, and has even gone so far as to claim that it is a threat to world peace. He appears to insist that being gay is a choice, not a fact of nature, and has said that, in “choosing to be gay,” man is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God. Are these, we have to ask, the words of a shy and benign hermit/scholar?

And yet, in spite of all, I do not wish the pope ill. Indeed, what I wish him is enlightenment. And I can only hope – and yes, even pray – that he will some day come to see the error of his ways, and recognize that the inertia and inaction he has demonstrated when it comes to protecting children, the intransigence and obfuscation he manifested regarding the Church’s finances, and the harsh and hateful words he has spoken about gay people and others all have consequences in the real world.

I wish him enlightenment, but I frankly do not expect it. What I expect instead is that some day in the not too distant future, Benedict XVI (or however he chooses to call himself once he resigns), will be walking along the well-tended garden path behind St. Peter’s Basilica, and he will run into the new pope. I expect the conversation will be brief, but pointed, and that he will urge his successor to follow all the misguided promulgations and policies that he, himself was responsible for. In other words, I expect retirement from him, and a degree of retrenchment as an individual. I expect he will spend his time in prayer and reflection and study, and I can only hope that in the process he achieves a modicum of wisdom. But, sadly, what I do not expect is a clear statement, or any retreat whatsoever, from the hurtful and damaging declamations and policies the retiring pope has unnecessarily inflicted upon an already distressed and suffering world.

TO FRANK AND KATHLEEN: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LATE THOUGH IT MAY SEEM

By Paul

Next week, my father, had he lived, would have turned 95, and the following week, my mother, had she lived, would have celebrated her 93rd birthday. Instead, they each died much younger, he at age 47, and she at age 50. A long time ago, obviously. But does anyone ever really forget, or somehow get over, the passing of their parents?

There’s something about that bond between parent and child that lasts, and that outlasts even death itself, it would seem. Of course, it would have been wonderful had they lived into old age, not only each for their own sake, but from my selfish (childishly so?) point of view. I would very much have liked to get to know them, not as Mom and Dad, but as Frank and Kathleen, or Kay, as my mother usually called herself.

Frank, first of all, was a complex and complicated man. Full of anger, of rage sometimes, and of disappointment. And, it has to be said, he had much to be disappointed about. A brilliant man, of that I was always convinced, although you would not have known it from the mere facts of his life. He finished high school and got married right after graduating. This was followed a few years later by a stint in the navy on a destroyer escort in the North Atlantic during “the War,” as we all always simply called it in those years. As if there had been no other such wretched combat in all of human history. Returning home in late 1945 a young man in his mid-twenties, he was already burdened (and that is the word, I think) with two children. A third would come a few years later.

He had wanted to go to college, but circumstances were such that he had to get a job immediately and begin providing for the family. So, he did his duty, as many other men of his generation and social standing did in those years in upstate New York, and took a factory job. He worked a machine that somehow applied resin, and in the process it eventually turned out various grades of sandpaper. I believe he hated every minute of his workday and longed for something bigger, something greater, something grander than laboring on the factory floor, day in and day out. His dream, and it is almost too painful for me to say this so outlandish it seems, was to become the conductor of a symphony orchestra. How did an Irish-American kid from a gritty factory town in upstate New York have such aspirations? He didn’t even know how to play a musical instrument, but that seemed not to matter. He had somehow heard Mozart, and Brahms, and Beethoven, and Haydn on the radio, and he was hooked. I will never forget seeing him every Sunday afternoon, “conducting” orchestral pieces while seated at the kitchen table listening to the radio, with his ubiquitous glass of Ballantine Ale in front of him. I was never sure which he got more solace from, the alcohol, which he soaked himself in, or the music, which fed some part of him that nothing else could touch.

Although I was too young, too narcissistic, too engrossed in my own pain, my own aspirations and my own fears at the time, what I realize now is, how could he have been anything other than disappointed with his life? How could a great orchestral conductor live in the body of a man who trudged six blocks every morning to the factory, paper lunch bag in hand, condemned to stand for eight hours next to a dirty machine, clanking out an unholy din of pistons and gears, instead of the celestial melodies of Borodin or Tchaikovsky? No wonder he came home every evening, made dinner for the kids (while Kay was working nights), and sat and drank himself into a stupor of a dream of a life he could never live.

And Kathleen, dear Kay, long-suffering, loving, compassionate, ever supportive mother, and wife and companion to Frank that she was, did her best to help the family’s fortunes. But there was not a lot she could do, making $35.00 a week as a sales lady. Even in the early years of the 1950’s, that wasn’t a lot of money. But what dreams did she have for herself, that’s what I would like to know. That’s what I would ask her now, if I could talk with her today. I do not mean talking to Mom, or to someone I identify as “my mother” (as if you can ever get away from that, as if some dissociation were even possible), but if I could, I would speak to Kathleen, née Goyette, married at age 18 and never finished high school. What did you dream of, Kay, sitting on the bus each morning going to work, sloshing through the snow and the sleet of yet another northern winter, heading to the department store for one more day of folding and preparing ladies lingerie, of smiling and assisting and selling to snooty women who looked down on you, wishing that closing time would come an hour earlier?

Did you dream of another life, one of glamor and of class and of enough money to spend on a new dress? How could you not have? Who, after all, dreams of the drudgery of laboring day after day, only to come home to a house where poverty stood like a grim sentinel at the front door, to a disgruntled, disgraced, half-drunk husband, and to terrified children? Or at least I was terrified. I cannot actually speak for my siblings, but I know I was petrified whenever I found myself alone with my father. I knew the depth of his despair, and I knew that somehow he blamed me for something I was never quite sure of, and was jealous of the closeness his wife felt with me, and how she protected me from his blows and his curses, against the blinding rage of his deadening and disappointing life.

My mother was a beautiful woman, both inside and out. I remember her telling me once, with a degree of pride I’d never before noted, how a man whistled at her and said to her, as she walked to work one fine summer morning: “Hey lady, you don’t belong in this town. You belong down in New York City!” Was that your secret dream, to live the life of a glamorous woman in a city where such a woman could be appreciated?

But no one is one dimensional, and each of us has the chance to change, to grow and be more than what we were the day before. Only at death do we run the risk of being frozen forever in time, at least to those left behind. Obituaries have a way of solemnly characterizing “the dearly departed.” He or she was the devoted spouse, loving father or mother, beloved brother, sister, or cousin, or aunt, but in each case those who knew could always see through these simplistic epithets. Frank was surely both lover and hater, aspirer and disappointed drunkard, providing husband and father and raging marauder. And Kathleen was lover and beauty queen, glamorous dame and caring, compassionate mother and friend to all, a lady with longing, yearning ambitions, as well as the contented supporter of those for whom her only desire was to nurture and to sustain.

What would Kathleen and Frank have become, had they lived longer? And how would Paul have reacted or responded, accepting them or retreating from them? Would he have supported changes in each, emerging into a kind of adulthood in which we all might have seen the other as human beings, with the full range of emotions and desires entailed therein, with our own unique faults and failures, our hopes and aspirations, and all the energy and all the lassitude that we allow and expect in whatever strangers may cross our path? Would Paul have forgiven them, sustained them, loved them as they deserved, and still deserve, as both parents and people who are more than that?

It is one of the great mysteries of life that we will never know how we might have evolved and changed to accommodate or attempt to block the emergence of those who are forever gone. We are left only with hope, and a dim desire, haltingly expressed perhaps but deeply felt, that they, too, might have lived to change along with the rest of us, who change over time. For to stand still in time and to ossify is a kind of early death all its own, while still in the body. It is a repudiation of life, which is growth, which is the opportunity of becoming.

So, dead though they may be, I wish them life and fulfillment. I wish Frank and Kathleen all the happiness they did not find on the factory floor, or at the department store counter. I wish them beauty and heavenly music. I wish them all good things, all the kind thoughts and little mercies I might have provided for them because of who they were, with their faults and their glories, and everything that made them parents first of all (at least for me), but humans, too, above and beyond and before all else, human beings, in the end not so very different from you and me.