The God Particle

(c) 2012

This is a very exciting day in particle physics.

My father is a theoretical physicist; we summered at what I did not at the time realize were the securely fenced-in cement structures and boxy metal military-style housing on the grounds of Brookhaven National Laboratories.

Theoretical physics–of theoretical picnic fame–is really pure math.

Before there were whiteboards, my father’s office walls were covered with blackboards underneath which stubs of chalk had been plunked haphazardly into pine sills after the conclusions of series of mysterious numbers and symbols.  Sometimes these equations leaped from blackboard to blackboard.  My brothers and I loved to visit there and scribble our own “equations” among the somewhat more professional mathematical work.

I am comforted by the sound of chalk clacking against a blackboard.  I still love the smell of chalk and of chalkdust-dense erasers which could be clapped together to make a puff of white dust that would make us sneeze.  And somewhere in my mind remains a scent I loved but which no longer exists: the smell of the stairs in Pierce Hall, which were covered with a black material that looked like coarse sandpaper but glittered as if it were embedded with silver dust.   Continue reading “The God Particle”

Whispers from the Wings

Cerulean Skies
(c) 2012

In a recent post I contemplated Frederick Buechner’s definition of compassion in Wishful Thinking.

A cousin’s comment on that post has had me thinking about another essay in the same book, concerning what we take to be coincidental: “I believe that people laugh at coincidence as a way of relegating it to the realm of the absurd and of therefore not having to take seriously the possibility that there is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know.  Who can say what it is that’s going on, but I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: ‘You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever think that you’ve been forgotten.’”

Well, it may be wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps I did show up in the right places at the right times today.

I heard whispers and roars, and was led into color and light.

It began early in the morning, as a dollop of sun hit a spot on the floor as light streamed through the outline of a flowering tree Jim had planted.  I felt my breath catch when I looked down and saw dancing upon my bare foot a single bright segment of sunlight, quavering from a morning breeze that had shaken the tree through which it shined,  forming a shimmering arrow laced with leaves.  It pointed me outside, towards that sepia swath I described only weeks ago.

The swath is not sepia anymore.

Only handfuls of straw stalks remain at bottom edges where they are being pushed out by broad, healthy leaves which exuberantly have erupted to replace the sadly drooping flora I had been unable to envision recovering green.

Recovered Green
(c) 2012

Continue reading “Whispers from the Wings”

A Couplet and Complicated Compassion

Mill Pond, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
(c) June 2012

Yesterday it did not seem as if today it would be raining.”

Last night actually did give just a hint of rain, after a glorious evening outside at Prescott Park in Portsmouth.   This time Shawn Colvin was not driven from the stage by lightning.

And today it is not raining; it is a perfect summer day, and one of my sons is leading a pack of children up a magnificent mountain.

But I don’t believe Edward Gorey was speaking of the weather.  I think he was addressing those unpredictable, turn-on-a-dime reversals in life that almost all of us will experience and witness with the people we love most.

Today is an odd kind of anniversary, which left its mark like only a handful of other days has.  The word “anniversary” itself seems too inherently festive, because there is nothing celebratory about this day.

It is not the day we found out that my husband’s condition was decisively incurable.  That came a handful of months later.   But on this calendar date, after several hours of waiting for a CAT scan at a hospital outside Boston, a surgeon pointed to the image of Jim’s pancreas on her computer screen in a windowless room and said, gently, “This is your tumor.”

Continue reading “A Couplet and Complicated Compassion”

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