Sunday, March 7, 2010

Not Dismissing Anything

Another warm, sunny afternoon here in Minnesota; spring is cracking through every remaining pile of snow and ice as far as the eye can see. I was out walking in a park with some friends, enjoying the sight of people in sweatshirts passing the remaining cross-country skiers. Convergence of seasons; overlapping images. The squawking of crows craning from atop bare branches.

Even though there is half a foot of snow on the ground in some places, we still stumbled upon a fresh patch of creeping charlie - everyone's second favorite lawn nemesis after my beloved medicinal dandelions. Tucked beneath an old oak tree, the sight of this perennial weed made me smile. There's no way to know just exactly where new life will appear, nor anyway to know what will come of the seeds planted in the past. Every bird that snacked the previous summer, and dropped crumbs as it flew off, added to this. Every inch of rain, inch of snow, shining hour of sunlight added to this. Every cloud; every human that ignored this place also added to this appearance.

It's so easy to dismiss something like early spring weeds as "not interesting," or of "no concern," and yet they are reminders to each of us about our own cycles of life. And they are, in themselves, tiny, green buddhas containing the entire universe. Actually, I prefer the word "multiverse," which I first heard years ago from a Native American man being interviewed about his spiritual life.

Apparently, the term itself was coined by the American philosopher William James, but I don't recall ever making that connection when I read his works. A more likely connection, though, would be the science fiction I was stepped in during my late teens and early twenties - especially the novel The Coming of the Quantum Cats by Frederick Pohl.

Here's a plot summary from Wikipedia:

The novel hinges around invasions from alternate Earths in alternate universes. None of these universes are quite like our universe; however, they all have some element or other in common, many of which Pohl develops to satiric effect.

* In one universe Nancy Reagan is the President of the United States and her mostly-disregarded husband Ronald is known as "The First Gentleman". John F. Kennedy is a Senator from Massachusetts who is married to a woman called Marilyn.
* In another universe, America's political spectrum has shifted far to the right, and Ronald Reagan is regarded as dangerously left-wing.
* In the past of some of the worlds, the young revolutionary Joseph Dzhugashvili (not known in these worlds as Stalin) had escaped from Russia to America in the 1900s, taking with him the proceeds of a bank robbery conducted on behalf of the Bolsheviks and using the money to set himself up as a big American capitalist.

The book presents multiple versions of three characters -- Dominic DeSota, Nyla Christophe, and Larry Douglas -- and their interactions as different versions of the characters travel from one Earth to another. Dominic DeSota is the main character, with most of the book told from the divergent viewpoints of three of his avatars (see following), with brief glimpses of numerous additional Dominic DeSotas scattered throughout the novel as anything between a nuclear scientist and a hunter scrabbling for bare existence in the ruins left after a nuclear holocaust.

I remember loving how these characters ran into alternate versions of themselves, and also how their alternate selves frequently appeared together, but never making the connection between each other. Beyond the wonderful speculative quality of the story, it also seems to be a mirror onto our lives. How, you might be asking? Well, first of all, you could view the many Dominics, for example, as comprising the impermanent, shape shifting "thing" we call our self. However, on a larger scale, the way in which tiny shifts in events in any of the different worlds of the book have an impact on all of the others. No action is a throw away action; sounds a lot like the law of karma, doesn't it?

The seeming insignificance of a patch of creeping charlie discovered in early March can be placed into great perspective here. If any of the causes and conditions had been changed, there might have been no creeping charlie in that spot. And thus no smile from me, which then flowed to my friends. This is a small example, but it points to the importance of not dismissing anything. Because every time we do, we are failing to see our own precious life.

Image from Cosmos Magazine

1 comment:

NowRocks said...

Beautiful, Nathan. Thanks.