Three Ways that We are Special in the Universe

13.7 billion years ago, our universe began to expand. We know this because it is sung in the theme song of The Big Bang Theory, though they round up to 14. You and I began to evolve as the first hydrogen atoms were formed shortly after our Big Bang. Indeed it is probable that each of us has some of those original hydrogen atoms in our bodies.

Until about 400 years ago, we knew our place in our universe. At one time, we knew that the Earth was a flat plane surrounded above and below by water, the firmament was above us and contained everything we saw in the sky. Above that was the spiritual realm which had direct ties to Earth. For example, in Egypt, the River Nile flowed from the spiritual realm to the Earth.

The Greeks decided the Earth was round and that all the heavenly bodies existed in spheres above us. Above the heavenly spheres was the spiritual realm. Different story, but still, we were at the center; we were special.

400 years ago, science (Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler) burst our heavenly bubble. The Earth was ripped from its central spot, tucked lovingly under the stars and the heavens, and caste out into a vast, cold void. We now know that we live on a small planet, orbiting a medium sized star in a spiral galaxy in a universe so big, that we seem to be nothing.

Until scientists such as Henrietta Leavitt and Edwin Hubble did their work, we did not even know our address in that immense universe.

To a sentient-conscious life form, having a place has immense emotional significance. To a group of those life forms, shared meaning has immense social significance. We lost more than our place in the universe 400 years ago, we lost our sense of shared reality.



I would like to offer three ways that we humans are special in the universe and they are based, not on conjecture or wishful thinking, they are scientific reality.

We Are at the Center of the Universe

The largest object that could exist in our universe is the size of the known universe, about 1030 cm (90 billion light years). The smallest object that could exist is about 10-25 cm.

We humans are in the 102 cm range. I am about 175 cm tall. We exist at the center of the size spectrum in our universe. This is not an accident. We are at the sweet spot for sentient-conscious life. If we were much smaller, our nervous systems and brain could not be complex enough. If we were much bigger, our neural pathways would be too slow for complex thought.

We are at the center of the universe; though not in the spatial sense as our ancestors thought. Ironically, they had the right idea about themselves and the wrong science. We have the right science and the wrong idea.

We are made of Stardust

When stars die, they produce elements such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur, known as the building blocks of life. Most of what we are made came from these star deaths. The amazing thing is that these elements make up less than 1% of the mass of the universe. We are made from the rarest stuff that the universe has to offer.


We are the consciousness of the universe.

Ever since the first hydrogen atoms were created in our Big Bang, our universe has been evolving toward consciousness. We are that consciousness.

You can say we happened by accident or you can say there was an inevitable path that began 13.7 billion years ago and we are the current result of that path. Either way, we are special.



This is our creation story and it is based on science. Science can tell us our truth. Only a sentient-conscious being can give it meaning.

Shared meaning can create a sense of wonder and fuel our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to each other.


Achieving a Sense of Wonder

Go out on a night when the stars are bright. Lie down on the ground in a spread-eagle. Feel your connection to the Earth. Look up at the stars. Now imagine that you can feel the Earth turning and you are part of it. Imagine that you literally came from those stars.

If you are interested in more, see

A God that Could Be Real by Nancy Ellen Abrams

The New Universe and the Human Future by Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel R. Primack

License free images from

artist’s depiction of Milky way from

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Spring Cleaning

I recall, when I was a kid, the scent of Spring mixed with the smell of detergent and Pledge.  These smells became planted in my brain. They represent the end of the winter sequester, when playing outside meant coat and boots

   Winter had its pleasures

but, ah, the arrival of Spring.




As May approaches and well before June busts out all over, come the mops, the rags, the spray cleaner. For two weeks, the vacuum becomes a permanent resident of the hallway; it will be used so often, there is no point in putting it back in the closet.

Tasks that have been carefully ignored during the frozen months are now tended to.

Winter gloves are replaced with cleaning gloves.  

Screens are pulled from windows and hosed down. Out goes that five year old shower curtain, replaced with a new one and a new curtain liner. Let’s throw in some new towel sets and bath rugs to match.

The cat watches in some dismay as his box and its attendant supplies are ripped from his bath  room. The tile on the floor is scrubbed, disinfected and coated with new wax. When all is dry and replaced, he carefully inspects the result and, ceremoniously, improves his new litter with a bit of himself.



Every movable object is removed from its place of rest. Surfaces, that haven’t seen the light of day since last Spring, are wiped down or cleaned with the same Lemon Pledge that my mother used. The windows are open and I get the olfactory reward that I recall from childhood. Interior windows surfaces are renewed with, you guessed it, Windex (or its generic equivalent). The glass won’t be so clean it disappears until the condo association schedules its Spring washing of the exteriors.

Meanwhile, clothing and coats that haven’t been cleaned in a while (some since last year), are sorted into wash, dry clean, and donate. Six garbage bags full are headed for Goodwill. How else can you make room for new clothes?

This is all preparation for the finale of cleaning;  the carpet cleaners perform with their scrubbers and hoses and suck a year’s supply of dirt and cat hair and smell from an acre of wall-to-wall. The cat is now beyond dismay at the absence of his carefully scented smellatory.


The war on stuffiness ends with the restoration. Stuff must be put back in place, but not everything. Some things are not meant to be carried into the future. There will be books, CDs, and DVDs donated to the library. Old documents, ragged edged towels, dishes too worn for use will be donated to the dumpster or left for the scavengers. A few items will invoke a sigh; yes, I used to love this movie but it’s time for someone else to have a chance with it.

The world will have a new feel when I am done, and certainly a new smell. I will breathe easier. Parts of me will be given up during this sacrament of Spring, making room for something new, perhaps something not conceived yet.



Less than Helpful Advice

A good old rag mop beats a sponge mop any day. Disinfect your mop with a little bleach from time to time.

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Can Friendships Survive Political Differences?

I have a group of men friends who get together once a month to eat and talk. We have a


rule that during this monthly meeting, we do not discuss work, sports, or politics. In other words, we want to get a little beyond the usual “guy talk.”

We did make an exception in 2015 when our usual meeting night coincided with the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Series. We congregated in one of our homes to watch the Hawks defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning and bring home The Cup.

We keep in touch through email conversations between meetings and, in the past. There is no rule that says we can’t talk politics in our emails but, most of the time, there are more important things to talk about.

Leading up to and following the Presidential election, our political commentary has increased. I suspect that this is true for others too and that some friendships and family lincoln-memorialrelationships have been strained over the outcome of the election and its implications.

Politics is a topic that creates discomfort in many social situations. I am lead to ask, why is politics so dangerous a topic? What is the problem if you don’t take it personally. Ah, Hamlet said, there is the rub.

I believe our political views are deeply rooted in our personal emotional history. We may think our views are entirely the result of rational thought, and when challenged in a conversation to justify a particular belief, we can maintain that pretense for a while. Sooner or later it comes down to our feelings; feelings that were formed in the crucible of our past.child-angry-1428564-1279x850

Our rawest feelings are often the result of times we were hurt, frightened, or betrayed by someone who was supposed to love us. Talking about our more deeply held political and social beliefs can trigger these feelings. We are then caught in a dilemma.

We may not know why we are feeling this way. We


may know and not want to risk exposing our pain even to our friends. We continue to

argue our political position, insisting that we are right. That is when friendships and relationships may get damaged. Politics is dangerous because our political beliefs expose our past. Our past exposes the soft underbelly of who we are.


I have a “tell” when I am caught in this dilemma. I feel angry and tight in the chest. I become rigid and judgmental of others. I want to fight or flee. I sometimes don’t know the roots of these feelings, why I am so entrenched in a particular viewpoint but I know that I am and that is a start.

Sometimes I just say it. “I realize I am being stubborn and rigid about this and I don’t men-friendship-2-1436724-1280x960know why.”  This simple admission allows me to feel calmer and more open and less threatened. My listener gets some awareness of my difficulty. This often allows us to stop debating our political positions and inquire into how we came by those positions. That is a different and more meaningful conversation. It brings us closer rather than creating distance.





How do I know when I am feeling threatened or emotionally stuck in a point of view?

What are my “tells”?




What would I rather do with friends and family, debate our beliefs or find understanding for one another?

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As I sat with a group of friends, we related our experiences with Christmas as children and o-christmas-tree-1443869-639x852then later as adults. Most of us had fond memories of childhood Yule, family traditions, food, the magic of Christmas morning. That was the word used often about Christmas in the days gone by: magic.

For my family, there was always much tradition surrounding Christmas.




The fun parts were making cookies and the trip to a local sporting goods store that converted itself into a toy kingdom during Christmas. There was also church, either Christmas eve or Christmas day. My parents did not let us forget what we were really celebrating. I could endure that in exchange for brightly wrapped packages on Christmas morning.

Those among us that remember the magic of Christmas as kids often long to recreate that visiting-baby-jesus-1517234-640x960magic. Having our own kids helps; we can create it for them and then experience it through their wide eyes and happy smiles.

Certainly not everyone has good memories of Christmas in the days of our lives when the world was new and everything was ahead of us. Those of us who do not often experience Christmas envy and wonder why everyone else is so annoyingly cheery as the day approaches.

In one way or another, many, perhaps most of us experience some Christmas Melancholia (Christmacholia) as adults. Try as we will, we cannot recapture the magic we recall or create it if it was never ours.

As I approach my 66th Christmas, I have been thinking about the meaning of Christmas to me today? My family gathering is in early January due to multiple scheduling issues. We have long since stopped exchanging gifts among the adults. The young ones still get spoiled twice, once on Christmas day and then again in January.

I am a bit surprised to realize that gifts and food and Christmas trees are not the thing that christmas-lights-1375364-639x881has endured as the meaning of Christmas. The magic now is about the billions of bright lights displayed in homes, shopping areas, and public places. The magic is in the generosity that people display towards the less fortunate at Christmas. The magic is in the way people smile more at each other even amidst the frenzy of last minute shopping.





Despite fighting traffic and crowds, despite too many parties and too much food, Christmas brings out the best in us.




I am probably foolish to think that this has anything to do with a small baby born in a stable 2000 years ago. I suggested to a friend that all those lights we put up at Christmas reflect the oft used nickname for that child: the Light of the World. My friend, better informed than I, advised me that such lights are from the pagan traditions of early Europe.

winter-solstice-1194324-640x480They lit fires to ward off the darkness of Winter Solstice. What a wonderful metaphor for hope.




My parents left this life long ago; there is no one to take me to church at Christmas. Yet I will likely be there either Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My faith is not steadfast; I have been in and out of it over the years. Yet, the Christmas stories that I heard as a child still resonate in my heart and give comfort.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” christmas-nativity-1442920-639x427(Luke 2:11, King James Bible)

I realize that not everyone is part of my religious tradition. There are many religions and points of view. I hope that as you experience your Christmas this year (or the holidays themselves if you do not celebrate Christmas), you will reflect on what the Spirit of Christmas means to you.

we-are-the-world-1311152-640x640Peace on Earth; good will to all.

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When Your World Tilts on Its Axis

I didn’t think Donald Trump could

I was wrong.

I held my view for two reasons. First, I didn’t believe the country would elect someone with such apparently extreme viewpoints.

I was wrong



Second, the pollsters said Clinton would most likely

They were wrong.

This morning I feel as if the world has tilted on its axis and that my world view has missed something important and I am still not sure what it was. In short, I have, at this moment, no idea what the future holds. I thought I did yesterday.

I was wrong.

What do you do when your world has tilted on its axis? Many things in life can make us feel this way: loss of a job, death of a spouse or child or other close loved one, divorce, lots of things. What do you do?

oh godIf you believe in God, you pray, and have faith that She/He is people-sling-ridestill watching over us.


If you are humanistic and believe in the basic goodness of people, you take comfort in that.


Mostly you just get up and go on with your day. Brush your teeth, make your coffee, get beautiful-set-of-teeth-1559770-639x465your kids dressed for school, do your job, take a walk. Stick to your routine.

You don’t allow your darker thoughts to hold the day. When you have them, express your fears to someone you trust, someone who cares about you. Cry if you feel like it.



hamburger-and-french-fries-1326614-639x736Eat some comfort food. I plan to have a hamburger and fries for lunch.

In other words, treat your mind and heart like you treat your body when it hurts. Take care of yourself. Your bad feelings will pass in time. Your world will right itself .




Less than Helpful Advice

Say it:face-dumbfounded-1438542-639x479

My world will right itself
My world will right itself
My world will right itself

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This is My Life Now

Do any of these lamentations fit?

I used to be married or had a relationship.
I used to have a job I liked.
I used to have more money.
I used to have lunch with mom every Sunday but she died.
I used to (fill in the blank).




Obviously this list could go on for pages. Our usedtos cause us all sorts of grief. Grief is natural and a part of life, like the losses that cause it. Losing someone or something we loved or liked having in our life is painful.

There is a point in grieving called acceptance. It is not the same as forgetting. It sounds like this: “That was my life then; this is my life now.”

I used to be in a relationship, have a job I liked, have more money; That was my life then; this is my life now.

Say it over and over. Say it when you are dwelling on your loss. Say it when you are feeling sorry for yourself. This is my life now.

Say it through gritted teeth or with eyes misting up. Whisper it, shout it, scream it if you anger-eyes-1434197won’t scare the dog. This is my life now. That was my life then; this is my life now.

God help me. This is my life now. It will never be as it was before. And tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, my life will be different. But this is my life now.

Say it every night when you go to bed and every morning when you wake up.


One day, you will say it and a deep breath will rise from your chest and you will hold it like you are holding onto the past. Then your body will force you to breathe out and suck in a new breath because you can only control your breath for so long, then survival takes over. In fact, you can only control anything for just so long.

and then, you will realize that there is still life ahead, there is hope, and there is someone who still needs





Less than Helpful Advice

passionate-prayer-1315195-1279x1068Say it: this is my life now;
this is my life now;
this is my life now.

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Unplugging had a strange effect on me.hammered-phone-1525658

Before I left for my favorite B&B on the shore of Lake Michigan, I left greetings on my business and personal cell phones that I would not be returning calls for a week. I left a bounce to the same effect on my email. I turned off data roaming on my cell phone so that I could not use the internet.  I carried my cell phone with the ringer turned off.

Except for a text or two with the guy checking in on my cats, I did not communicate via cat relaxingtechnology for a week. It was glorious. I was unplugged. I was not bothered by my phone ringing, beeping, or chiming. More importantly, I was not bothered by the anticipation of ringing, beeping, or chiming. And by the way, cats know how to unplug.

I slept better, I ate slower. By midweek, I was eating less and more simple foods. I was more aware of my surroundings. I talked to strangers when the occasion arose. I sat on the beach, swam, contemplated, read a novel I found in a book store. Sometimes I, dare I say it, wasted an hour or two, doing nothing but staring at Lake Michigan lapping at its shore. I watched the sunset over the lake every night.

calm lake






At first, I didn’t recognize how I was feeling.  Then, like a whisper of breeze on a hot day, I understood. I was relaxed. I was, literally, breathing easier.

I recalled the vacations my family took when I was a child, before technology became our master. Vacation meant “getting away from it all.” What a joke we have played on ourselves. Today, we go on vacation but we carry our stress with us. No wonder anti-anxiety and sleep medications are so in demand. We have forgotten how to unplug!

When I returned home and reluctantly plugged back in, I felt a jolt of fear, no, not fear, anger. I was angry that with a cell phone in my pocket, my time is not my own.

I started thinking about ways to unplug on a regular basis. I want to breathe easier more of the time.

Less Than Useful Advice

Many people tell me they can’t unplug because they might miss something. Yes, you might and that is the whole point.

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Check Your Check Book

As I was recording some expenses in my checking program, it occurred to me that a quick writing-check-1239553-1600x1200measure of the quality of a life is how many checkbook entries are classified as gifts, contributions, entertainment, leisure or personal care.

There will come a day when each of us will reach the end of life. That may come suddenly for some with a traffic accident or heart attack. For most of us, it will come calmly, in a bed, somewhere. We will have some time to reflect on our lives.

I doubt that we will count the number of days we stayed at work late, or how often we cleaned our house. We certainly will not lie there joyously reflecting on our superior credit rating. We probably won’t even care what our bank balance is at the moment.

Most of the things we chase in life will be mostly meaningless in the days or hours that precede our death. We know that even now. You know it. I know it. Yet we struggle on chasing those less meaningful things.

What will we think about in those hours when we are too tired to stand up one more time? I think, we will recall our friendships, our lovers, our families. We will relive our vacations and the moments that we stopped to watch the sunset. What we will mourn is that we didn’t spend more time with friends, more time watching sunsets and more time being good to ourselves and others.

Isn’t that why so many people give away money and possessions nearing the end of life? It’s their last chance to make someone else happy.

I once knew a man who was dying. His wife had made his favorite dinner: spaghetti. He had little appetite yet he devoured a huge plate of spaghetti. I remember thinking. This may be the last time he eats his favorite meal. It was.

For each of us, our day is coming.








Less than helpful advice

lake-michigan-sunset-1553019Spend some time imagining your death. Think about what it will be like to know that you have only days or hours left. Really get into it. Feel everything that comes up while you imagine this.

Then do something now that you will wish you had done. Repeat as necessary.


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Knee High by the 4rth of July

I always have this sense of “oh crap” on the 4rth of July because, for some reason, it means corn-field-3-1368922-1600x1200that summer is half over. That, of course, is nonsense. The Summer Solstice was June 20 and the Fall Equinox will be September 22. That means summer is ninety-five days. We are at day 15.

Perhaps my sense of doom derives from the perspective of a child. Summer in those days was measured not by celestial events but by the start and end of school, roughly the second week of June to the middle of August. July 4th was about the halfway point of that period.

Farmers used to see July 4rth as a growth marker for corn. “Knee high by the 4rth of July” was an expectation. Today, corn is way higher than that by the 4rth.

On this day, the common thing many of us will do is to stand, like children, watching the darkness above as fireworks burst before us, dazzling our vision. It never seems to get tiresome.

We commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the war of independence that followed. The men and women of the colonies put everything on the line for us. Thomas Jefferson’s words ring out.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are thomas-jefferson-3-1421198-1599x2632endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I have read that these words have no antecedent in previous philosophies. They were original to the Declaration of Independence. They expressed a novel idea, a radical idea. A country was never before founded on such an idea. It denied thousands of years of history. It said there is no privileged class; there is no one better than anyone else. There is no one who deserves more than anyone else, or less.


It is an ideal that we are far from realizing even today. Yet, it is the foundation of our social and political values.

Exploding colorful fireworks against a night sky reflected in water

We celebrate today, not a piece of paper, not a war; we celebrate an idea. That idea is as explosive and awe inspiring as the fireworks we employ in its remembrance.


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Can Apples be Awesome?

I know you have heard, even said, such things as:APPLE ALONE

“I bought some awesome apples today.”

“I just saw an awesome movie.”

It is not that an apple or a movie could never be awesome. It is that I do not think the speaker really means what they are saying. Sometimes I ask “what was awesome about the apples or the movie?” Usually, I get a blank stare or a fumbling response because the speaker does not know what he or she means. The word “awesome” was a space filler, an automatic word choice, jargon. An apple from a store may be tasty, pretty, but not awesome. Many movies are fun, scary, sad, but only a few movies qualify as awesome.

When we use word as fillers to describe our experiences or respond to others, we drain the vitality form our experiences. We nullify our feelings, our tastes, our reactions. We deny others any insight into who we are.

“But the word awesome has meaning,” you may reply. That is true. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “awesome” as “inspiring awe,” an “intense feeling of wonder, respect, or fear.”

Here are some awesome apples:




Apples that inspire wonder at the miracle of nature.


An example of a movie that inspires awe in me is “Apollo 13,” with Tom Hanks. I’ve watched it ten times. It inspires wonder in me about the technology. I experience fear for how dangerous the situation was and a deep sense of empathy for the families of the three men whose lives are at risk. I am left with admiration for the astronauts and people at NASA who got them home safely. I am truly in awe of these people. What movie inspires awe in you?

A mountain is awesome, as is a sunset, or a masterful song or poem. They inspire us. When we use words such as “awesome” for ordinary things, we rob the word of its power.

When we use words that do not accurately describe our experience, we mute our feelings and our thoughts. We become indistinct and vague. We cheat ourselves and our listener out of the depth of our inner world.  Perhaps even more damaging to us is that we may not fully experience our experiences because we never reflect on how to describe them.

sunset-1384221-1600x1200The Merriam-Webster dictionary includes more than 70,000 words. They are the colors of our mental and emotional palette. The average person uses about 2500 of them. That’s like painting a sunset using only two colors.

A Different Perspective

Think about the words you use every day, the ones you use without thinking. Resolve to use more meaningful words to give you and your experiences more flavor.

The richer you are in your command of words, the richer your experiences will become and the richer others will be for listening to you. You will have new respect for yourself and bewilder your comrades with your erudition.

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