Love after death

After death our bodies may be resurrected. Our souls may transmigrate or become part of the heavenly pleroma. We may join our loved ones in heaven. Or we may return the constituent parts of our being to the earth from which it came and rest in eternal peace. About life after death, no one knows. But about this we surely know: there is love after death. Not only do our finest actions invest life with meaning and purpose, but they also live on after us. Two centuries from now, the last tracings of our being will yet express themselves in little works of love that follow bead by bead in a luminous catena extending from our dear ones out into their world and then on into the next, strung by our own loving hands.

Death is love’s measure. Not only is our grief when someone dies testimony to our love, but when we ourselves die, the love we have given to others is the one thing death can’t kill. Only our unspent love dies when we die, love unspent because of fear. It is fear that locks love in the prison of our hearts, there to be buried with us.

— Forrest Church in Love & Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow (emphasis mine)

Whew. This man, a UU minister dying of cancer, has captured in much more grandiose words than I have yet to muster, a spiritual conviction I’ve felt in my heart for much longer than I’ve been a widow. As a widow, I hold these words close to my heart even more tightly. This is what I believe.

It actually reminds me of the end of the biography about DeForest Kelley called From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy. He had a very deep romance with his wife, Carolyn. After he died of cancer in 1999, his wife returned to their home and found an embroidered pillow which he’d left for her that read, “Real love stories never have endings.”

I cried my eyes out when I read the final pages of that book. And I knew what drew me to Dr. McCoy: the man behind the character had the heart of an incurable romantic. I never met him, but I understood him. It was how I felt about my husband, even if he never had time to leave me such a message.

I thank God every day that one of the last things I ever said to Mike was that I loved him. It was the last thing I said to my grandma H. too. Don’t let your fears of loss prevent you from feeling love or expressing it to the people you love every day. Without love, we are nothing but animals.

Preaching activism

A few weeks ago, I finished reading this really great book–In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God by Gene Robinson. You may have heard of this man from the news. He’s the Episcopalian priest who was elected to bishop in 2003 in Concord, Massachusetts, which resulted in a major schism in the church because he’s gay. Since his appointment, there have been many other stories of lesbian priests holding posts with the Episcopalian church, causing much division; however, this is a beginning to a great movement that sorely needed to happen. Too often, homosexuals are driven from a faith-based life because their home churches spurn them as sinners of the worst kind. It was really refreshing to read this book and get some insight to a great man who has found a way to challenge the people in his faith as well as unattached readers like me who just seek social justice for homosexual and transgendered people.

He had me at one of the first paragraphs in his book when he stated in better words what I’ve always thought in my heart:

Everyone knows what an “ism” is: a set of prejudices and values and judgements backed up with the power to enforce those prejudices in society. Racism isn’t just fear and loathing of non-white people; it’s the systematic network of laws, customs, and beliefs that perpetuate prejudicial treatment of people of color. I benefit every day from being white in this culture. I don’t have to hate anyone, or call anyone a hateful name, or do any harm to a person of color to benefit from a racist society. I just have to sit back and reap the rewards of a system set up to benefit me. I can be tolerant, open-minded, and multi-culturally sensitive. But as long as I’m not working to dismantle the system, I am a racist.

Similarly, sexism isn’t just the denigration and devaluation of women; it’s the myriad ways the system is set up to benefit men over women. It takes no hateful behavior on my part to reap the rewards given to men at the expense of women. But to choose not to work for the full equality of woman in this culture is to be sexist. (p. 24, bold emphasis mine)

Robinson goes on to equate this same argument with those who sit back and benefit from a hetersexually-centered society but do nothing to help change the system for equality for homosexual and transgender people. This argument is why I fight so hard for this cause when often times people ask–or want to ask–why I care so passionately about this issue when it’s not really my issue to fight. As a Unitarian Universalist, one of the seven principles to which I have agreed is the inarguable “inherent worth and dignity of every person.” This is the only principle of the seven principles I ever remember when asked, and that’s because it’s the one that resonates to my heart the strongest.

In reading the book, you have to swallow a lot of Christian dogma and faith. For someone like me, it’s hard not to roll my eyes and squirm when he discusses how every human being is saved through Jesus Christ. This man is certainly as evangelical as any Sunday morning preacher when it comes to his love for God and Jesus, and you can feel it hitting you full blast from every page. However, you also really understand the man Robinson is and you understand how deeply he believes. You can’t help but respect that. I can see why he must be such a great priest that he elevated to bishop: This man believes and he knows he’s saved and he wants to tell you all about how you can join him on this journey. I almost did want to join him on this journey. In fact, by the end of this book, I was bound and determined to visit the Episcopal church in Kent. I thought if the people of his faith thought as he did, even a questioning, sometimes-believer/sometimes-atheist person like me could join the bandwagon without much notice.

I haven’t gone to that church just yet, not even to peek for education’s sake. I’m happy where I’m at and where I’m at gave me the ability to appreciate Robinson’s words in ways I never could have even two years ago. He made me want to be Christian like no other preacher has before. And that’s because he’s just so open-minded and level-headed. He’s willing to concede that parts of the Bible must be read in the historical context in which they take place in order to be correctly understood. In a few swift words, he explains away the condemnations of Leviticus as taking place in a world in which a very small tribe of people (the Jews) were striving to propagate their genetic line. Of course homosexuality was seen as sinful behavior because it was antithetical to this tribe’s innate need to increase their population. He points out that masturbation and coitus interuptus were also considered grave sins–almost akin to murder–because of the waste of male sperm that should have been used to produce more children. (In fact, he points out that in the unscientific understanding of these ancient people, all human life was produced in male sperm. They didn’t have the scientific knowledge to comprehend a woman’s role in the process other than the one who carries the child to term.)

Whatever your religious convictions, Robinson provides a persuasive argument about the misuse of words and inaccurate translations that have assumed certain meanings in our modern mindset. He spends a great deal of time in the beginning of book arguing his convictions that he too is a child of God deserving of the same love and grace offered to everyone else. Strongly believing that he was elected to bishop for God’s purpose (as they believe the elected are brought to this position through the working of the Holy Spirit), he has become an advocate for gay rights which he feels is God’s purpose for him.

His book is largely a call to action. He respectfully avoids any details about his past, but where necessary, adds details about his life as a gay man that are quite touching. He has a life partner, to whom he was officially betrothed in his diocese, and you can really get a sense of the overwhelming love the couple feels even within the very few words. It was very touching. The book jacket also features Robinson, dressed in his priest regalia, with a friendly, warm smile on his lips. He could be any of the priests who taught me CCD in the Catholic church as a child. In fact, he looks rather grandfatherly and, after reading his wonderful book, I found myself overwhelmed by the urge to hug this man. His words were brilliant and touched me deeply.

I admit that I have been spending a lot of energy reading memoirs written by gay men to acquire a better understanding of the homosexual experience. A few years ago, I read a memoir by James McGreevey (the New Jersey governor who was outed several years ago). There are several similarities between these stories, particularly the great deal of effort and energy these souls have had to expend in hiding who they really were from the public eye so extensively. Even as a heterosexual, I can relate on some level to being forced to hide aspects of oneself from the public eye to fit in. As a child in middle and high school, I submerged aspects of my personality in order to fit into the group mind of the adolescents in my high school. Though trite compared to having to hide your own sexuality, the toll to my mentality was detrimental. I found myself doubting my own self-worth and it took a lot of years to undo the damage I did. I guess that’s part of the reason I’ve gone the complete opposite direction as an adult in highlighting the unique aspects of my personality, calling myself Mars Girl to constantly remind people that I feel I am different. I’m tired of hiding who I am so I’ve let myself out of my own closet to tell the world, “This is who I am; like it or leave it.”

It’s much harder to take on this sort of attitude as a homosexual because the backlash from the general public can be deadly. People have such a strong, irrational reaction to those whose sexual orientation or understanding of one’s gender is so radically different from their own. The religious conviction from fundamentalists that homosexuals and transgenders are damned does not make the situation any better. It’s a very sad situation and I completely empathize with anyone who has had to hide themselves in this manner. It’s a shame that people cannot accept people for who they are and show God’s love in a more positive manner. I believe that a person should have the right to walk down the street, arm in arm with the person they love, and not have to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid of the public’s reaction to the sight. As a heterosexual person, I feel almost ashamed of my freedom to publicly show affection for a man I love without having to worry about reaction from those around me. I want to fight for the right for all people of any sexual orientation to have the same freedoms and lifestyle I’m automatically entitled to as a heterosexual.

Robinson’s words describing the plight of the injustice against homosexuals and transgender people jerks my heart strings, reminding me of some of the fundamental reasons for why I fight so hard to help this community gain the rights society grants me innately as a heterosexual:

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been in a same-sex relationship. When you and your partner return from overseas on a plane and the flight attendants distribute customs and immigrations forms–“one per family”–you and your partner will need two forms because your family is not a family, though you’ve been together for many years. When you seek coverage under your partner’s medical insurance plan, your partner will have to pay income taxes on this benefit, unlike your heterosexual colleague in the next cubicle. When your partner is unconscious after an auto accident, you will have to contact her next-of-kin to make medical decisions, because you are nobody. In the eyes of the state, you have no relationship. When your partner dies, you have to hope for good relations with your partner’s parents, because they have legal charge over her body and its burial while you, in contrast, have no rights at all. (p. 48, bold emphasis mine)

I emphasize the last line because that is one of the items listed from which I benefited as a widow the most. I was in a heterosexual marriage in which the relations with the in-laws devolved upon my husband’s death. In a fit of fury, Mike’s mother once threatened to sue me for his insurance money. Of course, she had no basis, you may point out. You know why? Because I was married! The state of Ohio and the entire US recognized my marriage legally. Therefore, no one could take any of the funds or items we owned together nor could the benefits bestowed upon me at my husband’s death be taken from me. The legality of my marriage secured my finances and my ownership of things that became ours upon our marriage.

Can you imagine what it would be like, to share a life with someone as any couple does–pool expenses, buy joint property, build a life together out of joint incomes–and to not be allowed to legally have these things you built together? I would imagine in a relationship as controversial as a same-sex one, the family on at least one side of the relationship is less than thrilled with the situation. I can only imagine what kind of cruel ways the family could make use of their perceived entitlement. You think I’m exaggerating, but I will tell you that otherwise civil and intelligent people do not act normal in the death of someone they love. My own experiences with my in-laws tell me all too well how something like this could go down and it scares me.

In my own experience with my husband’s death, I had a lot of decisions to make about his body alone: funeral arrangements, whether I’d have his body cremated or preserved, if I’d donate salvageable organs, where his remains would be placed. Believe me when I say that these decisions were questioned by various family members on both sides; however, I had final authority on all these decisions by the mere fact that I was his wife. And could it be any other way? I love my family–next to my husband, they are the people who would know my wishes the best and respect them. But I didn’t live with my family 24/7; I didn’t build my life with my family. Ultimately, no one knew me better than Mike. Had I died first, I would want no one but him to make such important decisions about me.

Yes, it’s true that one can write a Will and a Power of Attorney for these types of decisions. However, these documents, pieces of law, can always be overturned. It’s been in my experience that the relationship of husband/wife is almost unarguable as the Final Word in the eyes of the law. The only way to bestow the same legal rights to same-sex couples is to make their union legal by law.

I object to the use of two different terms to delineate between a same-sex union and heterosexual union (for example the terms “civil union” and “marriage”). Any separation of terminology can be used legally to continue to discriminate full rights. I have firmly felt that the only way to rightfully end this debate is to make one term legal for both heterosexual and homosexual union–call it “civil union” by law or state. If it must be, reserve the term “marriage” for the churches who hold the word as sacred and holy and granted specifically by God as defined in the Bible. Then, if a particular church decides it does not want to recognize same-sex marriages or perform the ceremony, they are free to hold their beliefs as they like. In implementing this idea, I believe, the state should recognize same-sex “civil union” as it does heterosexual marriage now (with, of course, the term “marriage” being, again, reserved for the use in churches who seek to keep the term sacred with their own definitions).

I’ve always thought that this solution was logical and great practice. I can never understand why some intolerant religious types are so hell-bent on denying any legal rights to same-sex couples, even if they could elect in their own churches to not perform such ceremonies. Some people seem overly preoccupied by what goes on in other people’s bedrooms. I sure wish religious people of this ilk could just keep their convictions restricted to their communities instead of trying to impose their will and their morals on everyone. If you truly believe that God has condemned same-sex unions, then by not participating in one and keeping your community under the rule of its own codes, you would then be of your elect mindset. Why would you be so concerned about what the rest of the “heathens” are doing? Why are you so concerned about their welfare that you have to impede their efforts to happiness? When people behave in this manner, I cannot help but wonder if on the inside, they are really so unhappy with themselves that they can’t even bear to see other people living happily and by less restrictive rules. Control freaks, all of them.

Anyway, I digressed a little to stand on my soap box. I have to say that Robinson’s book really put a lot of questions in perspective for me. Particularly, how a man could remain faithful to a religion that spurns what is very core to his being. I smiled, though, when I read his words because I was uplifted by the hope that if one man has found a way to work within his religion to bring about social justice and change, then perhaps there is hope in the future for all those who are different than the majority but very faithful Christians who worship and love their God. The picture of God Robinson paints is a far more loving one than I ever interpreted while growing up as a Catholic and is definitely a more agreeable vision. I want to worship his God because he believes his God has made him perfect the way he is–as a gay man. He points out very clearly that being homosexual is not a lifestyle choice (and, seriously, who besides an angry teenager trying to rebel against his parents, would consciously choose a lifestyle so aberrant to society that it puts you always in a position of an outcast?). I already knew this, of course, but it always confirms my understanding when I hear it directly from a knowledgeable source.

I found Robinson’s book very persuasive in its argument; however, he was preaching to the choir with me as his audience. I was already on his side and ready to stick up for him before I even read the first page. I would hope his book would find a way to persuade those within his own faith–and other Christian faiths–to understand his position and see things in a completely new, more open way. I think he was writing the book for audiences who weren’t already on his side and I hope he managed to sway a few more people into his liberal faith circle. At the very least, I hope he at least manages to make a few others empathize with his position. It is only through an understanding of each other’s hardships that we can iron the wrinkles of discrimination that separate us from each other and prevent humanity from advancing into a higher state of selflessness.

I encountered another book I’d like to read about a girl who was raised by gay parents. I really enjoy reading accounts by people who have walked along paths in life I’ve only seen from a distance. It gives me an empathy and an intimate understanding of other people which I believe is the rock on which my social liberalism stands proud and tall. I believe that we should seek to improve ourselves every day and one of my biggest goals is to rid myself of as much prejudice as I am capable in order to make myself a better person. There’s always room for improvement. I believe in the equal opportunity for everyone in this life to gain access to the freedoms I myself enjoy. Humanity has so much potential to be better than it is. My aim is to spend this life helping to improve the conditions of life for living people. Heaven can wait.

Ten books that changed my life…

As lover of all things written, I’ve been kept up many a-night, on weekdays even, turning the pages of a great book into the wee hours of the morning because I couldn’t but it down. On a work night, even, knowing that I need to be awake to think enough in my job. A scarce few have made it to the ranks of my absolute favorite. These books have either agreed with an inner philosophy of mine or they’ve helped shape my view in some significant way.

1. Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence – This is a juvenile fiction book I read somewhere before middle school when I was totally enthralled by post-apocalyptic–particularly nuclear war–literature. Okay, so I’m still enthralled by post-apocalyptic literature and film. It’s a sick fascination, like watching a car crash in a way, except much more grim. I will watch The Day After every time it’s on. I just can’t help myself, despite the fact that these stories have always given me nightmares. Imagine being ten years old, barely understanding nuclear war, but gorging yourself on every post-nuclear war story you could find for a period of five years. I’ve read them all–Alas Babylon, A Canticle for Leibowitz, On the Beach, and many more whose titles I’ve lost over the years. Let’s just say that I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights.

Anyway, Children of the Dust was always my favorite of these books. It describes the fate of one family, separated by misfortune–the father manages to find refuge in a fall-out shelter with a community of scientists while the rest of his family tries to live on the surface of nuclear contaminated world. The book is divided into three sections: the story of the family left on the surface, the story of the husband in his underground bunker, and, finally, a future in which the surviving daughter of the surface family meets the post-war born daughter of her father. Lots of death, lots of suffering. But, of course, few survive and a new life emerges that would make Charlton Heston scream, “Get off of me, you damn ape!”

It’s a great book. I know I read it several times as a kid and I got my best friend, who is not a big reader, to become obsessed with the book as well. One year for Christmas, she managed to track down a copy of it (it was no longer being published) so I own a copy. It is much thinner than my memory remembers. Well, it was juvenile literature and I was a kid. I will always treasure this book.

2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Who in my generation did not like this book? Well, I suppose some of you out there are not science-fiction fanatics like I am. This is another book from my childhood that made me gravitate heavily towards all the books in our library that bore the red little tilted planet symbol that signified science-fiction books. I was born into science-fiction when I read this book and there was no turning back! I recently bought this book for a coworker’s newborn baby when my company decided to give books as shower gifts. I figured that at some point the child would be old enough to read and enjoy it as I did… and I had a secret hope to infect more children with a love of science-fiction.

A Wrinkle in Time is a fantastic tale of a several genius children on a quest to find their scientist dad that brings them on a journey across space and time through a process called a tesseract. It’s about family and love and, at times, about the central character’s (Meg) growing up. There are two other books in the series, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet which I read. In one of them, I learned about mitochondria because the character Charles Wallace (Meg’s younger brother) was dying of a disease that broke down this cell organelle. I think they might have somehow had to go inside his mitochondria to save him, but I don’t remember. I think there was a whole complete universe within the mitochondria that they visited. Maybe I’m making that up–it was a long time ago. But I wouldn’t put it past L’Engle; her stories were always way different than anything else I’d ever read.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Okay, I know it is a bit cliche for an English major to adore a classic such as this, but I can’t help it. There are reasons a classic is a classic and this book is one that deserves such praise. I think the reason this book so special to me is that it was probably one of the first “classics” in high school that I actually found myself enjoying and understanding on some level. It’s easy to read. It’s tragedy and I looove tragedy. Especially tragedy in which you know right off the bat is going to end up as a tragedy. As you watch events unfold, you keep screaming, “Don’t do that!” and “Ugh! That won’t work.” and “Turn back! Turn back! This is the last point at which you can get out of this unscathed!”

Jay Gatsby is a man from a lower class background who desires, with every ember of his being, to become a part of the wealthy class and he wants it all for the love of a girl (of course). But he is nouveau riche–new money–and he will never fit in with the families of old money no matter how much he tries. For one slim moment, he does win the girl, but you know throughout the book, that it is not going to last because the relationship is impossible in impossible circumstances during impossible times. Of course, we’re left with a smoldering mess of tragedy at the end with only the narrator to spin the tale of the fading star the world will never know. I love the drama of a good tragedy! Did I already say that? Oops!

Even better, in the movie version, which is a fairly decent interpretation of the book, Jay Gatsby is played by Robert Redford… and, God help me, I love that man no matter how old he gets. *drool* I wouldn’t care one iota if he was nouveau riche or oldo riche–I’d take him as my lover any day! And I wouldn’t need one million dollars to persuade me to such an indecent proposal.

Anyway, The Great Gatsby is another book I’ve read several times and still managed to love. The more you read something of this caliber, the more details you find that lead you to admire the intricate pattern the author has woven into plot.

Because of this book, I learned the word “hedonism.” Whenever I use the word hedonism, the descriptions of the crazy parties thrown by Gatsby come to mind.

4. Passage by Connie Willis – I read this book on the way to and during my trip to Colorado with my parents in August 2002. My first return to Colorado since I left in July 2001 after a month-long sabbatical, there was a strange irony about reading a book written by a woman from the Denver area who had set the book in Denver. Even further ironic is the fact that Passage is about a young female doctor researching the phenomena of life-after-death. This book moved me in ways I can barely relate in words. The question is never fully resolved during the very shocking ending, leaving the reader to make of the topic what they will. My spirituality was stirred as I read this, and I kept wanting to say, “I believe. I believe.” I kept hoping she’d conclusively find evidence for life after death; like real life, she never found anything conclusive.

It was a really weird time in my life, halfway between a stage of anger and acceptance in my grieving process. On that trip, I also stayed at a hotel where the manager bore an uncanny and striking resemblance–I am not kidding–to my husband. He had his mannerisms, his friendliness, his receding hairline, his eyes, his speech pattern. I wondered vaguely if this were some half-brother of his from the biological father we never knew (which is entirely possible as my husband was born and raised for the first couple years of his life in Denver). I guess this book means more to me because of time in my life when I read it than anything else. I’m afraid to read it again in fear that it will stain the memory of it. Some of my friends were not as taken with the book as I and have found holes in the plot that I refuse to look at. This was my book at a moment in my life when I needed desperately to believe in something. Even if it is a work of fiction.

5. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Arthurian Legends told from the perspective of Morgana, King Arthur’s half-sister, this feminist perspective of the popular legend emotionally describes the colliding of two worlds: the matriarchal pagan traditions and the uprising patriarchal culture of Christianity. It jerked my heart strings because it so beautifully describes the pieces of Christianity I always had a problem with and points out the brutality of men in their dominance of a society. On the surface, it’s just a great story. This book moves like a symphony from beginning to end and, despite its many pages (500?), I never felt like it dragged. In fact, I was glued to it for three days straight (I’d have finished it sooner, but I do have a life). It caused my feminist side to scream with rage and my slightly pantheistic leanings to surface.

It isn’t all negative on Christianity, though. Morgana, the last High Priestess of the pagan sisterhood, finds peace with the new faith when she stumbles upon a nunnery and realizes that even Christianity has its own sisterhood of brave women bound by the tradition of a Earth mother in the form of Mary (Jesus’ mother, that is).

When I read this book, I was angry with Morgana for giving into the new society and for finding something good about Christianity in the nuns she discovered. For every resigned line, I thought, “Yeah, but, the nuns still have a secondary place in the Christian [Catholic] church!” (Whereas, in the pagan culture described in this book, only the women were priests.) However, as I’ve started to come to terms with my own history, I’ve started to realize that I’ve now changed like the character Morgana, and I’ve found my peace to reconcile with Christianity. I guess you can say that I’ve grown with the book, even though I haven’t read it in several years. I remember enough of it for it to still affect me in new ways.

6. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke – Sort of post-apocalyptic, this book is about a crux in the evolution of humanity where the Overmind (read: God) has decided it is time for us to move to the next level of being. A race of beings called the Overlords, who look suspiciously like what the Bible has described as demons or the devil, are dispatched to Earth to help us in this transition to our higher state. The sad thing you learn towards the end of the book is that the Overlords do not have the capacity of mind to evolve beyond what they are, so they can never become one with the Overmind, and therefore, can only serve the Overmind in the capacity of helping each race (for, we learn, there are many in the Universe) into its transition.

Childhood’s End has slight references to Biblical themes such as Revelations and makes a case for how man has interpreted past intervention its growth by the Overlords (thus, the image of the devil). I really liked it because it suggested that much of what we as a race misinterpreted in reality became myth, thus binding strongly with my own philosophies that there’s a point in life where science and religion become the same thing. We never really learn exactly what the Overmind is–it does not take away the belief in God or a godlike figure, but supports the idea that man is a part of something bigger than himself.

I also have taken a liking to the genre that describes an evolution of man into something else. Other books in this genre that I have loved in the last few years are The Harvest and Spin, both by Robert Charles Wilson.

7. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – No one points out the ills of society or the fallacies of human nature better than Kurt Vonnegut, which is why I was always one of his biggest fans, may he rest in peace. Cat’s Cradle is the pinnacle, in my opinion, of his cynical outlook on life with such gems as his invented religion of Bokononism and his made-up words like foma. Foma, the basis of the Bokonon religion, is “living by the untruths that make one happy.” Oh, what joyous fodder for a religious skeptic like me!

This book is cleverly told by an unidentified narrator and describes the destruction of civilization (as is a common theme in Vonnegut books) by a scientist who invents a material called ice-9 which has the capacity to freeze all water it comes in contact with instantaneously. Reflecting the very real fears associated with the real life discovery of atomic power, Vonnegut’s scientist is so wrapped up in the fascination of science that does not even realize the potential threat of his invention, nor does he particularly care for he is completely oblivious to human relationships.

I love this book because it just eloquently satirizes human relationships and religion, and emphasizes the responsibility of scientists to society. Something in these pages resonated with me and I found myself exclaiming often, “You are soooo right!” as I chuckled. Vonnegut, in my eyes, will always be a genius. His fiction and his non-fiction papers tell me that we think a lot alike. Although he may be slightly more cynical than I am!

8. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – This is another story about the collision of two very different worlds. It’s the future and the human race has discovered another race (I think it might have been a planet off of one of the Centauri suns, as those are the closest to us and used often by writers). We send a convoy to study this race who has apparently welcomed our presence with open arms. Of course, we screw up and majorly blunder in our relations with this culture completely alien to our own.

The science is less important, for the genre is just the convention Russell chose to construct a unique setting for her story. The theme is old–two different cultures collide and misunderstand each other. We could find this going on elsewhere in the world as western civilization tries to negotiate with tribal cultures we can barely understand. It’s really a great sociological study of humanity, as seen through the safety of a telescopic lens so that no fingers can be pointed directly at anyone. But you can draw your own analogies as you read; they are certainly plentiful.

9. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells – The reason I love this book so much really has mostly do to do with a description of a very future Earth enduring a natural death under a swelling sun and a disappearing moon. I think it’s chapter 9 or 10. It occurs sometime after the Time Traveller has left the Earth of the Eloi and the Morlock. In his rush to escape, he accidentally pushes himself very far forward into the future to a time long after the human race has gone from the Earth.

The descriptions in this chapter are so vivid, I could see it clearly in my head like a chilling painting I always think of whenever I’m reading something about how things will come down in the solar system as the sun dies. I remember that I was reading this chapter while babysitting some kids who were playing as I only half-monitored them as they moved about their basement playroom. Suddenly, that playroom just dissolved around me and I was in the time machine with the Time Traveller, watching these crab creatures move about the scorched surface of an unfamiliar Earth. I got goosebumps, which for me is always a very clear indicator that I’m emotionally moved.

This chapter taught me a very simple lesson (which is also, I think, what it is intended to have taught the Time Traveler): human existence on the planet is only temporary. In the grand scheme of the universe, we are inconsequential and small. The things we value and worry about and put all of our thought into are transitory. Everything we may do probably amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Somehow, this line of thought urged me to live for the moment, to not allow myself to become weighed down by the small stuff. It should have depressed the crap out of me, but the sick person that I am, the sense of smallness and insignificance somehow makes me feel comfortable. And, to me, there’s always something beautiful in a universe, even in its destructive capacity. I find assurance in the understanding that no matter what we do to the planet, we have no power to rule it. We can make conditions here unbearable for life (and thus snuff ourselves out) and other life will emerge that can live in these conditions. The planet will go on, whether or not the human race is on it, and to me, there’s God in that. We have our chance to have a go as minders of this celestial garden; if we ruin it for ourselves, then something else will emerge that takes over. And the planet will go on until the sun burns out. And more suns will go on after ours burns out. The Universe is constant, I believe. Even after one is extinguished, another is created. I think the cycle of energy that creates life and binds the collective Universe is endless. After all, how did we get here now?

Ahhh, but I babble… Sorry!

10. It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong (with others) – I know it’s cheesy for me to tout this book, knowing how much I love Lance Armstrong and feel he can do no wrong. BUT, this is a really, really inspirational autobiography about finding the strength to overcome a horrible situation and not only come back to life, but come back kicking and punching and shoving your way through it. Folks, this man was within inches of his life. As he states repeatedly in this book, he should have died. Yet, for reasons not even he understands, he happened to survive. As he openly admits, some people die from cancer and some live.

This book is such a testimony to fighting your way back from any great loss and findng strength in the lessons learned. I especially loved the duality of Armstrong’s statements about his brush with death. He tells you repeatedly that he would rather he never had to go through this horrifying experience; yet, he openly admits that going through cancer gave him a drive for life and his career that he never had before, without which he would have never gone on to earn the seven Tour de France victories. I understand this duality because I’ve felt it myself with my husband’s death. While I desperately wish that I would never have lost Mike, I have found an empathy within myself towards other people that I never had before and I’ve discovered a more devoted thirst for life. I think this book validated these feelings that I thought were kind of shameful to even consider. It’s an odd thing to almost love and depend on the one thing that crippled you so badly.

I read this book during my time in Colorado when I was becoming an avid cyclist. I think I used this book as my personal gospel for finding a way to get beyond my own grief. It also showed me that death is random. Here is a guy who was so close to death, yet he survived; it made me see a randomness that was somehow comforting when thinking about my husband’s death. And the cycling was inspiring which, as you know, brought me back to life too.