One dark and stormy night, taking advantage of the enforced intimacy that comes when a hurricane knocks the power out and trees are down in the roads and all you can do is huddle near the wood stove, I asked the young man who is now my son-in-law what he learned from his study of theoretical physics. I mean what about string theory and the 11th dimension and what not might be applied to everyday life.
I immediately regretted this blurt, fearing that it might come across as a bluntly American/ New Yorky kind of challenge–whaddyagonnado wit all dis stuff? Plus, he had already been through a lot. In the space of a week, the poor English lad had experienced a mild earthquake, a hurricane, and major power outage. ”Tell him we like to show our foreign guests a really big time,” said my father.
To my relief he answered immediately. ”No one is special,” he said. He explained (and I paraphrase) that in light of the inconceivable vastness of reality, in light of our inconceivably infinitesimal teeny weaniness in relation to it all, the very idea of insisting on any kind of singular and isolated specialness is just completely ridiculous.
I believed this was true, but it haunted me. In the light of this all this vastness, what matters, what can guide us? Near the end of my recent amazing trip to India, the answer suddenly and unexpectedly fell into place.
I was at a party in Mumbai. It was a beautiful night in every sense. The apartment was full of art and music and opened onto a big terrace overlooking the Arabian sea. The night air was soft and the air scented with an unnamable combination of spices and all the people gathered there seemed to be very accomplished and creative, but also searching and questioning in a sincere way. The conversation turned to what it takes to live a life that matters.
In the end, nothing matters, and no one, said an attractive older woman who managed to combine approachable warmth with a regal bearing. In light of eternity, nothing and no one matters, not Gandhi, no one. She had everyone’s attention. Passion matters, she added, and the sense was that she meant being connected with what you were doing, being in alignment with a meaning beyond yourself.
She spoke quietly but firmly, not arguing a point but sharing a hard won truth. The conversation rolled on in to the subject of changing paths from money to meaning, to the chance encounters that sparked this change (one man there left the Wharton School for music after an encounter with an exterminating angel–literally, a bug exterminator who sat down and talked to him about what really mattered). The quiet words that woman said burrowed into me like a really beneficial virus.
I think people can come into our lives like guiding angels (this particular angel was not an exterminator but a distinguished Indian business woman). With a few remarks she helped me see that the guide I was really looking for was an inner guide. The guide was knowing whether we are really in alignment with a greater energy, whether we are really outside the prison of self, engaged in the dance of life, open to vastness.