I live in Las Vegas, NV. If you’ve never been, you should definitely go. I wish you could see what I see, feel what I feel for my adopted town.
The other day I was driving northward into Vegas from Phoenix AZ. I had a load of plastic caps that was Canada-bound and I was passing through to spend one more night at home before heading out for a few weeks. It was a grey day. Now – normally I’m not terribly fond of grey days but this was an exception. Sometimes they’re not bad – it’s nice to be reminded of nature’s cyclical nature from time to time and to feel a cool breeze on your face loaded with the promise of rain. This was a beautiful day. The sun hid his face behind a grey sky, it was pleasantly cool for a change (for me anyway – I’d spent the last several weeks in the frozen northern wastes).
The reason I say you should visit Las Vegas is this – there’s no sight like it in the world. I’ve traveled the 48 contiguous states and into Canada and been to the far side of the world. I’ve seen natural wonders and sights so beautiful they can make a brave man weep. I’ve woken to a morning so ethereal I could literally feel magic in the air and wouldn’t have been surprised to see faery-folk and mystical creatures walking round. That was a wonderful day – I felt like I’d somehow slipped the boundary between our world and another and when our version of reality reasserted itself I carried some of that magic back with me in my heart. Yet in all this beauty there is no place like Las Vegas. I’m not talking about when you fly in – coming in from the air makes it lose something in translation unless you come in over the Grand Canyon. I’m talking about driving in from the south on US 93/95 from Hoover Dam. When you round the bend at Railroad Pass and see the valley nestled between its mountain ranges of red rock on both sides and this wonderful city of light sitting there so alive it’s just breathtaking.
So I drove in from the south on this pleasantly cool grey day and rounded the bend at Railroad Pass and there she was – my adopted town, just sitting there pulsing with life. I love this town. I love the light, the night, the sounds, the pulse, the attractions, and the friends I’ve made. I love the life in this town. I love that it’s alive even in the high desert. And that’s when it hit me – life always finds a way. No matter where – no matter how inhospitable the conditions – life will always find a way. And that’s very encouraging to me. Life is tenacious – it clings on because it is so precious a gift. Life, my friends, is the universe’s gift to itself.
I was a tenacious reader as a child. I especially loved reading science books because, hey, I fucking love science. I was reading about subatomic particles and quantum physics and astrophysics in elementary school. There was one book in particular I always went back to – this one was about high energy particle physics and don’t bother asking me what a book like that was doing in an elementary school library because I just don’t know – anyway I went back to this book a number of times over my years at that particular school because it made a statement that captivated my young mind. It simply stated that
“We are made of starstuff.”
That blew my mind! I was captivated, but I’ve only recently begun to actually grasp what that meant. Don’t get me wrong – I got the science behind it and filed the data away in its relevant location – but the philosophical implications of that statement didn’t begin to percolate until many years later. I’ve begun to wonder if the universe didn’t deliberately place that book in my path for a reason. Here’s the thing: the most abundant elements in the early universe were hydrogen and helium. They still are – that’s why their atomic numbers are 1 and 2, respectively (disclaimer: I know that’s not why they’re numbered 1 and 2, but this is a philosophical discussion, not a chemistry lesson). They’re light elements, and simply ridiculously abundant in nature. The very first stars were therefore necessarily light – all they had to go on were hydrogen and helium. All of the heavier elements were created in the stars. ALL of them. These elements were dispersed by way of supernovae as those very first lights in the darkness ended their lives in blazes of glory, just to be reintegrated over and over and over and over again over – as Carl Sagan would say – billions and billions of years. Eventually the universe came to be what we see now, life evolved on our little blue ball of hope and we came to be. Our component atoms, though, were forged in fiery nuclear furnaces unfathomable distances away that managed to come together in self-replicating patterns of organic chain molecules that eventually learned how to think.
I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that hit me the way the starstuff comment in my elementary school library book did when I was a kid. It said,
“We are the universe’s attempt to understand the nature of its own existence.”
Is that not amazing? I don’t know how that makes you feel but I find it a beautifully optimistic statement. What this says to me is that – regardless of your pain, your scars, your fears, your nightmares – the universe WANTS you here. Life isn’t easy – trust me, I know – but you were meant to be here. Whether you believe in fate or chance – each and every one of us are the universe attempting to understand itself. Every atom in your body at one point was scattered across infinity, clamoring to unite with every other atom in your body – screaming “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” and pushing back against the darkness until they were flung across space and time to finally come together as the person you are with your talents, your loves, your laughs, your scars.
The lesson here is that life, and therefore hope, endures. No matter how dark the night, no matter how grey the sky, no matter how bleak the horizon, you are made of starstuff. You have in every atom of your body the ability to push back against the darkness and say “Let there be light” and the power to be the light to your world.
As I write this I’m sitting at a – well, I guess you’d call it a truck stop in Legal, Alberta. The ground is blanketed in ice and snow. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my truck, leaning forward resting my arms against the steering wheel listening to a bootleg copy of a concert The Beatles performed in Atlanta, Georgia back in 1965. Help! is playing right now. John, Paul, Ringo and George were in excellent form that night. I’ve driven 1500 miles since Saturday and haven’t had much sleep. It occurs to me that – as hard as this concept is to grab, thanks to tactile sensory input – l’m not actually touching anything in here. The seat, the touchpad on my iPhone – I’m not actually making direct physical contact with any of it thanks to the quirks of particles at the quantum level. I feel it though. I feel the firmness of the steering wheel, the floor of the cab, the padding in the seat. I feel a bit of a chill creeping in, even though – thanks to the wonders of thermodynamics – I know it’s actually thermal radiation seeping out, moving from a high energy state to a low energy one. I miss my wife, my sons, my daughter, my mom, my sister, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. I don’t see any of my loved ones nearly as much as I’d like to. I see my coffee mug and thanks to memory association I think of my 12-volt coffee pot and the three boxes of Twinings tea I’m carrying with me and ponder making a cup of Earl Grey, which reminds me of a fascinating audiobook I just finished called
A History of the World in Six Glasses,
which is a sordid tale of how beverages advanced and evolved with human civilization over the past 6,000 years. I feel stiffness, swelling and pain to varying degrees in my joints thanks to encroaching arthritis and the cold. I think of hope – that nebulous word that encompasses so much yet is so hard to define – that drives me to wake up every morning and not drive off a cliff but rather face each day as a brand new chance to get it right. I think of the cyclical nature of existence. I think of the universe evolving new and more complex lifeforms, advancing from amino acids to single-celled organisms to various plant and animal life over billions of generations to finally produce self-aware creatures capable of asking questions and pondering the nature of consciousness and the existence of the very tapestry of space-time we’re woven into.
I’ve said before that I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal tendencies all my life. I’ve come out and said it not for sympathy or pity or to make anyone feel bad but as a means of letting others out there know they’re not alone. A good friend of mine actually attempted suicide a few years back and I found him – dehydrated, feverish, and unconscious – in his truck. I saved his life, and in the process had to come to confront my own sadness and depression. At the time he attempted it I was going through a very nasty divorce; I’d lost everything that mattered to me; I’d been betrayed in the worst possible way; I was seriously considering opting out Hemingway style. As I contacted my friend’s family and experienced their reactions I got a taste of what my family would feel if I succeeded in my own attempt and decided I couldn’t bear to have their anguish on my conscience. So I found reasons to keep going. I’m glad I did – I’d have never known the joys I’ve come to know since. The point of all this is that it’s ok to hurt – it’s ok to struggle. As you struggle though, remember – the universe began creating you billions of years ago in nuclear fire. You’ve been tested for billions of years by heat, pressure, cold, vacuum and radiation and still managed to come to be. The particles, atoms, elements, and molecules that make up who you are are basically the same as every other person but there is no other you on the planet.
Hope endures, my friends. Remember – you overcame unbelievable odds to just be here. Life is a gift, a privilege. You may be cold, you may be hungry, you may be broken and scarred, but you are still beautiful. We fought our way across infinite reaches of space and time to be right here, right now. I’ve been betrayed by the closest people to me; I’ve fought off a brain tumor and am still fighting emotional and psychological darkness every day; I’ve lost friends; I’ve been cold and hungry and alone. But I am still here and I am beautiful. I still fight every day because I finally see my life for what it really is – I am the universe expressing itself as me for a little while.
LET THERE BE LIGHT!
A side-note about my friends: I got lucky – I’ve met some absolutely beautiful souls in this town of tourists and plastic people. Some of the most wonderful, beautiful, loving, caring, giving people reside here and that’s amazing to me. They have their troubles, their hurts, their cares, their scars, and they are just beautiful people. I belong to a group here in Vegas who’ve come together due to a mutual love of karaoke, as cheesy as that sounds. If you’re ever in Vegas, look up Karate Karaoke, go to the calendar page and unleash your inner rock star. Tell them Don Loco sent you.