Despite all indications to the contrary, the universe is still unfolding exactly according to plan. Even though nothing else seems to be going right, I am beyond awed by the images coming to us from the James Webb Space Telescope: infinite time and space, dazzling nebulae, proof positive that Carl Sagan wasn’t kidding when he told us about “billions and billions” of stars. And that’s just the beginning. The seemingly limitless wonders of the universe doesn’t solve any of our earthly problems; it just renders them fundamentally insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Like many of us who watched The Open Championship last weekend, I wanted Rory to win. He seems like such a likable, thoughtful, honest, and humble young man, a golfer of prodigious skill who somehow manages to keep everything in perspective. And yet he didn’t win. He was bested on Sunday by an equally proficient golfer and, on that particular day, a better putter. Disappointed as I was, I had to tip my own hat to Cam Smith. The universe is unfolding exactly according to plan.
This morning, I awoke to three breaking news stories: the surprise wedding of Bennifer in Las Vegas, the massive failure of law enforcement in Uvalde, Texas, and the impending testimony of that bleary-eyed and unshaven mugshot, Steve Bannon, before the January 6 committee. None of those stories did much to get my day off to a good start, but I’m not the issue here. The universe is unfolding on schedule and exactly according to plan.
Our human impulse is to make everything anthropomorphic, solipsistic. We put ourselves in the center of everything. But the JWST does away with all that. We’re on the marginal periphery of cosmic events, if even that. Moreover, there may be no center. If the universe is ever-expanding, constantly dying and being reborn, then there is no beginning or ending, no moment of inertia, not even a big bang. As for us, our own little planet, our entire solar system, is not even a grain of sand in the Gobi Desert. We’re not even an afterthought. We just are. The universe is unfolding exactly according to plan.
Of course, true as this may be, the evidence of our own insignificance does not absolve us of our responsibility to strive to do better: to fight for justice, to protect our planet, to solve the riddle of this pandemic, to rebuild our ailing economy. To right wrongs. Not only to save what we have, but to make it better. These are not insignificant or meaningless earthly tasks; they are what we must do, even if the universe is unfolding exactly according to plan.
Think about this: it’s even possible that these small human tasks are part of the plan. If all politics is local, then maybe we have to begin by taking better care of each other. If we do only that, then don’t we become part of the plan, too? I never said the universe was random, only that it was unfolding exactly according to plan.
I understand that this Musing begs of the question of “Whose plan?” Is there a divine author or prime architect, or is the universe just one grand, never-ending scientific experiment run amok? Does that even matter? No matter one’s perspective on this most basic of questions, it seems to me that it’s up to us to make sure the universe continues to unfold exactly according to plan.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.