Thursday, May 20, 2010


A yellow crane stands tall amidst the backdrop of a deep blue sky and a tangle of wires and antennae as I sit on my balcony contemplating the string of events throughout my entire life that have led to this moment and how very little I actually had to do with it.

I wasn’t even born when the war started in Beirut, and I grew up with news images depicting an apocalypse in the city in which I now sit. If there had never been a war, there’d be no need to be here. If Hitler hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t be here, for the state of Israel wouldn’t exist and there’d be less conflict in the Middle East. If the Ottomans had won World War I, I wouldn’t be here. If the Crusaders had crushed the Muslims, I wouldn’t be here. If the South had won the American Civil War, I probably wouldn’t be here, either, because the United States would not be the economic powerhouse it is today.

Why is each chapter of history books marked by the beginning or end of another war?

Last night I learned that a friend’s son had been killed in an automobile accident. He was 21 years old. I thought about the circumstances of our friendship and how odd it is that we even met at all – me, a well-educated American and she, a Ukranian whose profession is considered unsavory in most circles of the world. Next week she was supposed to go back to Ukraine for six months. Instead, she is leaving today to go bury her son. What were the circumstances that led him to be in that car at that exact moment? Think of the billions of possibilities that could have put him two seconds behind. He’d have woken up today and his mother would cook him dinner next week.

My friend Ash told me “Time does not exist” but I keep trying to convince him he’s wrong. I tell him “time” is just a word humans created to help them talk about an abstract concept. Human language is so limiting because most human beings are either unwilling or unable to comprehend things that exist outside their minds. They invent things like God to explain away the things they can’t explain and believe words are static and narrow. But Time and God and Fate are all the same unknowable concept. They should be understood as something mathematical, for everything in the world is mathematics. E=mc². Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Our bodies are mathematics, too, just combinations of molecules, chemicals derived from various combinations of electrons and protons and smaller miracles. Mathematics is what distinguishes a human being from an ashtray. (Not a reference to Ash but to a conversation I had with Amigo last night when he tried to tell me there is no difference between a human being and an ashtray.) I’m human because the energy worked to create carbon and hydrogen and oxygen in the right numbers. The ashtray is an ashtray because the energy combined differently to create different elements.

Amigo was right, in a way. Human beings put too much emphasis on words. We call the yellow thing in front of me a crane because it’s a heck of a lot easier to say “crane” than to describe the physics and chemistry that allow it to exist and do the work it does. Mathematics. Look at how we transmit data these days – in series of zeroes and ones. I am listening to a man from Cincinnati sing about our wobbly world at the moment, but his voice isn’t real – it’s just a series of zeroes and ones translated by the miracle of Microsoft.

Oh, the things you talk in a pub about when politics and religion are banned topics of conversation. Anyway, it’s time to go play darts with Ash and Amigo and show them how poor my math skills really are.

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