Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Christmas Miracle

The Buddha taught that it’s a fundamental delusion that I perceive myself to be separate from you. If that’s a new, insane or just plain theoretical statement to you, bear with me as I rev up my dormant brain cell and attempt an explanation that won’t embarrass me.

Though the Buddha taught this 2,500 years ago, physicists are trying to catch up. We’ve learned we’re actually packages of molecules which can be broken down into atoms, which can be broken down into subatomic particles. (For now we don’t need to go further than that, which is okay with me since I’m already in up to my neck. Don’t try to lure me into a discussion of quarks and leptons either, unless you read yesterday’s post and you have a bon-bon on hand to revive me.)

It turns out that while you and I perceive ourselves to be quite solid, we’re actually just clouds of sub-atomic particles held together by force fields. These clouds contain more space than particles. The force field of one particle cloud influences the force field of the other. If I sit next to you, it changes the behavior of both of our clouds. Moving towards or away from each other changes our clouds, too. In the end, there is nothing I can do “to” you that does not affect me equally.

At some point, it becomes impossible to distinguish your particle cloud from mine. Is that your electron way out there, or mine? (Which begs the question: Are our subatomic particles just as graspy as we are? “That’s my quark!” “No it isn’t!” “Is too!” “Give it back or I’m telling Mom!”) And that enormous amount of space in-between all those particles—whose is it?

If you have kids that fight over their space in the back seat, you can use this physics lesson. It’ll put them right to sleep. Problem solved.

So I got up this morning and scanned The father of a family loses his job due to illness, which begins a domino-effect of financial difficulties. You can feel the fear clamp down on them as their bills roll in, the car breaks down, a foreclosure notice arrives.

Then a friend steps in and posts the family’s story on her blog, asking for donations. The blog link spreads across America. People are moved to help. The money rolls in quickly : enough to fix the car, enough to get current on the mortgage. A tv station runs the story and as a result, the father is offered a job. Others join in. An unemployed woman with no hope of getting a job gives $1. A woman without a car walks to her grocery store carrying her offering of a jar filled with change. Finally, a little boy knocks on the family’s door and hands the father a $5 bill, “Here you go, mister.”

Their miracle, my miracle, whatever.

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