“The Milky Way Galaxy now becomes small enough to hold in your hand, a delicate disk of subatomic-sized stars. The Andromeda Galaxy, slightly larger, is not quite within reach at its scaled-down distance of two meters. The universe of galaxies can be perceived in all directions, ranging from basketballs-sized giant ellipticals to dwarf galaxies no larger than the head of a pin. Yet the immensity of the cosmos still defies the senses. There are so many galaxies in the universe and they fill a volume of space so vast that even though they are just a few steps apart, it would take centuries simply to walk past all these tiny islands of stars. And although we think it is impossible to know what lies beyond our universe, there is no reason to presume that ours is the only one. The bubble of space we call the universe could be but one in an infinity of of universes that constitute the true cosmos.”
-Terence Dickinson, “The Universe and Beyond: Fifth Edition.”
Yesterday at around 5:30pm as I was finishing up work, an old friend (Canadian surfer, they exist) who I haven’t seen in many years instant messaged me saying, “you and me montey are one in a million.” Very drunk, in a strong typo-slur, he proceeded to tell me that he was in Taiwan and that he was just almost killed by a group of about 15 Taiwanese gangsters. He was at a club and he smacked a girl’s ass and her boyfriend and his crew dragged him into a back room and beat him up, and that he only got out after begging for his life with “no no digbnity” and sucking on the carpet. They told him to give the girl all his money and if she didn’t accept they would kill him. She took the money and gave the hand gesture and they let him go. He told me it was the most terrifying experience of his life. The last thing I did before shutting down my computer and leaving work for the weekend was google a time-zone converter and see what time it was in Taiwan. It was 6:40am. This must have just happened.
In 1992 I spent the summer at a dharma center in Colorado while my parents did seminary. I was nine. These days, the kids at the dharma center have a whole child care facility and staff but back then it was much more rugged; a teepee on the edge of an aspen grove and little to no supervision. While on most days we would pass the time with pine cone fights and kick the can, some days we would go on more serious adventures, hiking the various mountains that surrounded the remote valley. One day we decided it was time to hike “skull mountain,” which was a mountain off in the distance that had a rock formation on top of it that resembled a castle. We knew it was further away than the other mountains we’d hiked but we quickly learned how deceptive distances can actually be in the mountains. No matter how many hills and valleys we crossed, it remained “just passed the next one.”
Finally, after hiking for the better part of the day, when we were finally nearing the base of the mountain, we heard the angry roars of a bear. We began to run, terrified. We were already exhausted from the lengthy journey, but we ran for our lives, on and on and on. I remember my friend, a future surfer, barely gasping out that he couldn’t breath and that we needed to stop. I recall the thick panic in the air as we waited for him, panting in the hot mountain sun, rapidly scanning the surrounding hills for the charging beast.