Evolution and the Anthropic Principle
Richard Dawkins vs Ken Wilber
Where Am I
The Cheshire Cat
I Could Have Been a Contender
What I Wish Id Said
Keeping Up with the World
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Power of Fog
Naming the Unnamed
Principles in Art
Spirit and Matter
The Enlightenment Conundrum
On Believing
Water? What Water?
Telling Stories 2
I believe in Rainbows
Whom Can We Believe
Patterns by Paul Simon and Douglas Hofstadter
Copyright Inheritance
Broad Minded
Beliefs Part Two
A Long drawn-out solstice
The Quest for, and the Illusion of, Certainty
To the Ends of the Earth
The Meaning Of Life
We Hold These Truths
There are Beliefs
Music and Language
Circular Thinking
Runaway World
Deep Playmate
An Alchemy of Telling
Cultural Genes
The Joy of Science
The Conundrum of Human Nature
No, The Computer Isn't Smarter than I Am!
A Rant on Religion
The West Wing Turning Right?
The Geometry of Spring
Music as Language
What is Art
Beauty and Spirit
You Don't Understand Us
The New God of Probability
Gene Hackman as President
Being Lifted Out of the Ordinary
The Head and the Heart
Pay Attention!
Music Poetry and Meaning
On Seeking Truth
Perceptions and Reality
The Marriage Bond
Taboo is a Right
Copyright versus Copyleft
Cycles of Transcendence
Ego and Self
The Big Picture
Mindfulness as Larger Mind
The Power of Words
The State of the Union
Out of My Mind
Family Thoughts
One Life
Telling Stories
Small World
Bigger Realities
What Comes Next
Humor as a Higher Level of Consciousness
Sometimes Everything Goes Wrong
Emotional Resonance
Extraordinary Respect
Insight Meditation
Us and Them
Paradox and Paradigm
To Reach
I Don't Know
Don the Romantic
The Guy in the Blue Saab
The Sound of Silence
Eating is an Intimate Act
Evolution of Spirit
On Cloning and Other . . .
Creativity and Psychic Phenomena
Magic in My Life
My Difficulty with Aaron
Mindful & Mystic
Taste of Irony
Music Appreciation
Levels of Consciousness


Ray Bradbury, in his Martian Chronicles (I think), tells a short story about an interplanetary traveler who, on his way back from a by-then-routine trip to Mars, becomes separated from his spacecraft somehow, and watches his home planet Earth as he plummets toward it, knowing fully that he is about to die in its upper atmosphere. The story reveals that he was eagerly going home to his family after a long absence.

Meanwhile, on the surface of Earth, a mother and child are standing out under the stars, and the mother is explaining to her son that his father will soon be home again. They look up to see a flash in the sky. "Look," she tells him, "a shooting star! Make a wish!"

It’s one of those scenes etched in my memory (even if some details might have become distorted with time), one of the vivid descriptions for which Bradbury has gained my eternal admiration. Irony almost always grabs me, and much of Bradbury points out the ironies of life.

Last weekend I thought of that story again as I heard the descriptions of the shuttle Columbia breaking apart as it entered the atmosphere, also on its way home. It’s not likely that the crew had those moments to reflect on their fate as Bradbury’s lone astronaut did.

And just this morning, I was looking through my collection for a theme in the music of Philip Glass, a theme I recognized in the sound track of the recent movie The Hours and which I remembered from one of his earlier works. I have an audio tape and a video tape of the 1983 movie Koyaanisqatsi, the first of his trilogy in collaboration with director Godfrey Reggio. Listening to the opening music, I pictured in my head the heart-wrenching scene that it accompanied—a rocket, fired from its launching pad then exploding far overhead, captured in agonizing slow motion by the camera following as its engine tumbled back to earth, all to the slow, repetitive arpeggios that mark Glass’s music. My mind transposed the scene from the movie with the scene captured by someone last weekend as the Columbia stunned the world with its immolation. There had been no suggestion in Koyaanisqatsi that the doomed rocket it showed had been manned; it was certainly not the shuttle Challenger, which exploded in 1986. The theme of the film was "Life out of balance" and it illustrated the extent to which we have become slaves to our technology.

I couldn’t put the tragedy of the Columbia into that same argument. If our life, our culture, is out of balance, which I agree it seems to be, the loss of the seven men and women does not illustrate that assertion. We humans have always pushed our limits to explore what lies beyond, and some of us have paid for our curiosity with our lives. We might lament the loss of these seven without accusing the space effort of tempting the gods.

The video of the Columbia’s demise was mercifully short. The single scene of the launching and destruction of the rocket in the film took three and a half minutes, and was accompanied by Glass’s relentless music. It will be a while before I’m willing to put the video on to view again, much as I admire the work. It’s too soon.

Ironies abound in Godfrey Reggio’s film trilogy. The second one is Powaqqatsi, a Hopi word translated as "an entity, a way of life, that consumes the life forces of other beings in order to further its own life." It shows the effects of modern industrial influences on Third World societies. The third film is about modern war, and has just been released. I’ve not seen it yet, although it was recently playing at the Michigan Theater. I’m not sure I have the stomach for it. Perhaps later. Philip Glass has made a place for his music in my consciousness, however, and I’m not likely to ignore any of it. His mournful background music for the film about Virginia Woolf’s character Mrs. Dalloway grips me the way Samuel Barber does with his Adagio for Strings.

All of this is related, really. Sometimes I feel so strongly about the pathetic struggles of humankind to find out why we are here that sometimes I think I can’t bear it. And yet I seek out the things that pick at the wound: the stories, the music—especially the music—that remind me, that make me feel intensely, over and over.

Last Saturday’s meteor shower, however much it tugs at the heart, was not like the bombing of Hiroshima or Dresden. Its awfulness commingles inside me with admiration for the courage and optimism of those seven people. They were not victims in the sense that the people in the World Trade Center were a year and a half ago, or that the ordinary people in Baghdad are likely to be soon.

A salute to seven astronauts. A prayer for the thousands who are about to die.


Donald Skiff, February 6, 2003

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