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Warmth On A Winter Night

From beginning to end: a history of the universe in 15 minutes

By John Kaminski |

Stasis. Silence. Darkness. Cold. (How cold is nothingness? Cold, but there is no way and no one to gauge it, so it's probably comfortable to the entity that IS nothingness, and in such a universe, everything. In the Absolute Zero of deepest, darkest space, it might think, "Hmm, a little chilly." Or, "Cool!" The one thing it didn't think was "Mmm, just right," because we all know that there is no nothingness, there is a whole bunch of something strewn across the sky. Which leads to the timeless question ....)

Did it always exist or did it suddenly happen? Was there ever nothingness or did something suddenly occur?

I love the Big Bang theory. Planck time. The universe expanded to approximately its present size in less than a millionth of a second. Now that's what I call inflation! Of course we don't know how big the universe really is, or if it ends at all. Therefore it seems logically ludicrous to theorize a beginning when we can't authentically postulate an end.

We do know that all organisms are born and die. And we know from the parable of the fish who can't see above the surface of the lake that there is likely more to the universe than can be seen by our eyes or perceived by our brains.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Because we see all these wailing starts and whimpering ends, and our mode of comprehending natural puzzles is to tend to anthropomorphize everything (like turning stars into gods and houseplants into imaginary beings we talk to — and damn if they don't grow better when you do that), we naturally figment a beginning — that Big Ole Bang — and an end — called Heat Death — to this starry potpourri we call the Universe.

Thus, with our limited understanding, we contemplate the beginning.

I love the winter sky at night, and over the years have memorized the names of many of the stars in it. The regal hieroglyph named Orion the mighty Hunter chases the Seven Sisters of the shimmering Pleiades across the night, a timeless projection of human behavior writ large upon the sky, all enveloped by the majestic Medicine Wheel, which starts at Sirius and arcs northward to Capella, like the giant hand of a caring chaperone shepherding celestial lovers.

A surprising visitor to the Medicine Wheel this winter is the radiant planet Saturn, old Father Time himself, settled in right next to the twins, Castor and Pollux, an uncharacteristically prominent place in the ethereal pattern of things. Though I'm no soothsayer, I definitely perceive an omen in this portentous placement in the heavens. Something momentous is about to happen, and it involves all the time of recorded history, happening now right before our eyes.

Surveying the wonder of the sparkling firmament, a single question invariably forms, creeping up my spine like some cold lizard. "Why? Why should all this beauty have come to exist at all."

Throughout my years of skywatching I have always received the same answer, and doubtless always will. From amid the distant quasars and shooting stars comes the soft whisper. "I created the universe with a wish, because I was lonely."

Then I go inside and sip my hot chocolate with comfort and joy. I know for certain that no force ever would have put us here for any bad reason. And even though, in the inexplicably cruel tumult that is the world of men, there is much horror to regret, I know this life is the quintessential gift in all the universe, and I give thanks for the chance to live it.

Therefore, what has been given to me I would give to others. It is both the nature of the gift and the secret of real power. The dearest thing in life is something to be given away, because that is how you nurture the flower that gave you life, that lonesome wish in the darkness that created all these exploding suns and teeming seas that sustain our state of grace, our being, our somethingness.

That we choose to misuse this gift is not the problem of the universe, which has sought, literally from time immemorial only to create conditions perfect for our happiness. The benificent Sun and his faithful daughter Mother Nature provide all that living creatures need to thrive on this Eden planet of our dreams. For all but one creature, who, upon receiving the great gifts of reflection and abstraction, chose to see the forest as potential plywood.

And so it may be that in our manic quest for self-possession we will destroy ourselves and all we covet. That in the terror of our own demise that we will go extinct and play no part in the future evolution of the greater universe.

Sure, it is to be regretted that we couldn’t be happy realizing that our lives were given to us only on loan from the universe. It is a lease arrangement, you see, that no living thing can break. Not even the stars themselves are exempt from it.

But this is no reason not to be thankful — most profoundly respectful — for the amazing gifts we HAVE been given. That we have chosen not to use them wisely is no one’s fault but our own, yet even this provides reasons for gratitude, in the hope that our ugly lesson will serve as an example for wiser species to come not to fall into the same traps of inventing deities rather than respecting the real one, and thinking in our preposterous hubris that we could create a world better than the one that was given to us by the sacred fates and elements, by the eternally graceful rhythm of the stars and the seas that we chose to ignore and disparage.

So that’s your beginning. On the timescale of the greater universe, the time it takes to begin to think about raising your finger and striking a key on this keyboard encompasses all of human history, past and future — from the flint that caused the first spark that ignited the first bit of kindling that heated the first felled wildebeest that fed the first nuclear family in the first gathered community ... to the last bomb that was dropped that killed all living beings on Earth because, as on Mars long ago, it popped the atmosphere like a soap bubble and turned the planet into a lifeless, frozen cinder; then five million years passed and life began anew.

Eventually, the eternal ephemeral intelligence that animates all living things and drives trillions of different species on countless different stars and planets throughout the universe began to contemplate the end of all life throughout all the vigintillions of galaxies.

Still, from the great distance of time it had achieved into a far future we cannot begin to comprehend, it looked back on its most antediluvian history, and for all its technology and all its intelligence still could not see the beginning, so it could not realistically predict an end.

Yet intelligence remembered everything it had ever learned and it recalled an ancient creed that had once held sway in the highest snowy mountains of an exquisitely beautiful planet its inhabitants had called Earth — now long since consumed by its exploding sun. It remembered an ancient ritual called the bardo, in which some devotees created an imaginary alterworld between life and death which they calculated they traversed between the time their physical bodies died and they were reborn into a new life they had chosen after a period of profound reflection and advice from spirits they had invented.

If only, intelligence in the far future mused, if only those enigmatic humans had practiced in real life what they had planned to practice in the bardo, how much happier they would have been. Because they refused to realize their existence in the corporeal state was in reality a transit between deaths — and since we know that both states are equal on the astral plane that governs the lifecycles of the universe — they waited until they were dead to practice what they should have been doing while they were living.

Had they done that, their planet would have been peaceful, as I intended (intelligence said), and they could have chosen the end they really wanted, which is of course is not to end at all. But their fear got in the way, prevented them from doing it. Thankfully, intelligence continued to muse, there is not now nor ever was any reason to be afraid, as virtually all living things have always known.

Thus, on some crisp night in some happy world of the far future, some curious adolescent wanders out at night and ponders a starry sky, imagining a happy face from flickering light high above that has taken millions of years to reach him.

As he looks up, the quintessential question furls on his brow. “Why? Why should all this beauty should come to have existed at all?”

Amid the trillions of twinkles dancing overhead, the eternal whisper wafts down like an elegant waltz in time.

“I created the universe because I was lonely. So now you have no reason to be, because I am always here. All you have to do is look up at night. You are a part of me and I am a part of you. Remember, we’re both stardust. Although my face may change with the passing of days, as far as you are concerned, little one, I will always be here. Because I always have been.

“No matter where you are, or how bad things seem to be, you are never alone, because you are always at home, with me, among the stars, where there is no beginning and no end.”

The little shaver smiled, toyed wth a stick in the dirt, and studied the fine but dim white mist that someone long ago had called the Milky Way. The voice spoke again.

“The only thing you have to fear is believing this is not so. Don’t let anybody fool you. Because it IS so. Just watch the sky and see.”

And with that, as they always have and always will, the beautiful stars rode by.

John Kaminski is a writer of political and psychological broadsides who lives on the edge of a vast sea where the stars are very bright. For more information go to

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