You finish your coffee with a friend, rise and say your good-byes. As you exit the cafe something extraordinary occurs; something that almost always goes unnoticed. The focus of the entire universe gets up and goes with you. Like a spotlit actor moving across the stage, the universal spotlight remains fixed on you. Did you overlook that? Can it be any other way?
Let us say your friend opts to leave the coffee shop first. Does all that universal awareness go with her? Like a supporting actor, do you fade to black as the universal lead walks out the door? It seems such a silly, obvious question, but the implications are profound, because in it lies the seeds to all that bedevils the human animal.
Copernicus worked out that Earth rotates around the sun and we now know that our solar system orbits a massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way and that our galaxy is but one of hundreds of billions of galaxies all racing away from each other across an unimaginably vast universe toward an as-yet unknown destiny. And despite all of that interstellar hyperactivity the universe remains strangely, steadfastly fixated on … you.
I am the center of the universe.
And you are the center of the universe.
And nearly 7 billion others on this planet claim the same role for themselves.
But to be the “center” of something implies that, well, there is a center around which everything else is more or less focused. Whether we consciously admit it or not, each of us imagines that all of those imagined universal leads (or at least our local population of them) are really, truly, honestly (and perhaps secretly) invested far more in our own journey than their own, that they care deeply about the outcome of our lives, that they would never really recover should we, you know, exit the stage. And we do mourn if they die, of course, but truth be told, for ourselves far more than them.
Parents and siblings, friends and lovers, spouses and children, all of them are pretty damned keen on what happens to me because, to repeat, I am the Center of the Universe. One need only look at the global popularity of Facebook and the endless updates about such arcana as lunch menus and dentist appointments to see this thinking in action. Someone‘s got to be watching, paying attention, playing audience to my lead, right? Someone’s got to care.
Being the center of the universe is an enormous responsibility. After all, we have to prove we are worthy of the role. We must leave our mark, work hard to be remembered. So much is riding on our success, so many are watching. It doesn’t help that all of these competing universal centers seem to have ideas and dreams of their own. I’ve got to work so damned hard to convert them to my cause, to keep them on the same page, to make them understand.
Being the center of the universe is also terribly lonely. Billions of us scurrying across the surface of this orb desperate for attention, validation, a sense of belonging. Even the strongest of us yearn to know – really know – that everything will be OK, to rest, to be loved without condition. But who of us universal centers can provide such solace and comfort when we, too, are in the same hot seat? How can I give what I too am desperate to receive?
All of which gives rise to a kind of insane push and pull, of competition and cooperation, of love and hate, of hope and despair. We attempt to overcome our sense of isolation by creating groups based on religious, political, national, or civic “orthodoxies,” only to see those orthodoxies inevitably crumble under the weight of all those competing opinions and belief systems. We mount crusades to convert the unbelievers, we must destroy the village to save it. We elect leaders and promptly tear them down, anoint saviors and nail them to trees. We posture about our capabilities in public and agonize about our inadequacies in private. Julius Caesar came as close as any of us can to establishing himself as a true universal (or at least global) center and was skewered by his most trusted confidant. If only he’d noticed the way the universe followed him. If only he’d listened.
Back to our coffee shop, which just as easily can be imagined as Caesar’s Senate. Listen to the conversations expressed in the language of all those competing universes. “What I’m trying to say is….” “I think that….” “What you need to understand….” “What I believe is….” “Well I told them….”
I, I, I, I. Roughly 7 billion I’s and counting, all of them in a desperate struggle to be heard, understood, loved.
With so many leads, who is left to sit in the audience?
(To be continued….)