The Multiverse and Baby Aspirin: A Review

First, the baby aspirin. I take one every day for prevention of heart attack and stroke. Should I? It’s complicated. So, no one recommended that I take those 81 mg of acetylsalicylic acid, but, frankly, it’s a habit I like because the orange babies are delicious.

Well, usually. Baby/low-dose brands vary in price—from $0.01 each to $0.77 each (“New! First and Only Liquid Filled Capsules! Vazalore). Regardless of price, I can’t taste any difference except one: HEB’s store brand tastes yucky. That’s an onomatopoeia, by the way, or so I just learned and will let you think about it.

I mix together the new set with the last. The problem arises when I forget that the HEB brand tastes terrible and when, each evening, I shake one out, I never know if I’m going to get yummy or yucky.

All of which brings me to Schrödinger’s cat and oversimplification of anything that begins “In quantum physics…” This thought experiment has nothing to do with opening a box with a cat dead-or-alive but everything to do with quantum superpositioning. The scientist in question wanted to show the absurdity of the theory, not confirm it. So, of course, scientists now believe© that the theory is correct. If we think we understood any of the possibilities either way, we were probably wrong. Radioactive material (a tiny amount and therefore unpredictable), a rigged hammer that the radiation will (or will not) trigger, and a flask of poison (he was specific—hydrocyanic acid). Complicated for a thought problem.

Another theory no one agrees might be possible? The multiverse. It’s not a new concept. The ancient Greeks 5th century BC thought all matter was made up of—guess what?—atoms which created parallel universes when they collided. Scientists are still divided about this, of course. Marvel and Sony don’t seem to be, however. They are on it. An excellent example is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) which, though animated, was thoughtful and interesting. But this list has many, many more. Narnia, but also Space Jam and Monsters, Inc.; The Golden Compass and Pacific Rim. By now, it’s a trope and we know the rules (or do we? Spock meets Spock and neither universe ends).

In Spider Man: No Way Home (2021), we learn quickly that Peter Parker’s wish to be forgotten by all except a few chosen ones results in chaos and mayhem. Granting wishes is another trope; think of “The Monkey’s Paw” AKA Pet Sematary. Yes, another trope—wishes. This is an official trailer, so no spoilers. Reviews are positive, an understatement. These from CNET contain MANY spoilers. Here’s an interview with the producers. It’s also making tons of money.

All well and good. But why does the audience applaud at the end? I have several theories.

We’ve wept. We’ve laughed. We’ve sighed. Not really a spoiler—the sighing is for a real kiss shared at the end; that superheroes never can be happy is a personal concern. The powers that be have finally agreed with me and changed storylines for Captain America, for example. Hawkeye endured pain but is fine now, mostly. Long story. So the emotions are real for an audience hungry for entertainment that is genuine, not derivative; intelligent, not condescending.

Themes are not my favorite approach to art. But one set of principles I do like and used in teaching were Boulton’s 4 Rs: recreation, recognition, revelation, and redemption. (Here is a short passage on the topic from my friend Joyce’s book, Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.) No Way Home hits all the marks: 1) It’s fun to watch. Not too much fighting (looking at you, new Matrix). 2) We will recognize lots of things I can’t talk about here. 3) We will see in Peter Parker traits we didn’t know he had. 4) The redeeming power of love is common, but here that doesn’t happen. The kiss has another meaning. Here there is much redemption, all around, even to the point of incredible bravery that has nothing to do with leaping and slugging against impossible odds etc.

When they started remaking another saga with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), there was also applause. This Spider Man feels different, however. It’s much more personal and not as world changing. We don’t understand the physics or whatever science is used. It doesn’t seem to matter. Yes, tears. There is also a special kind of hope for the future. And, obviously, the joy of expectation for a sequel. Though like baby aspirin, you never know…

Have Yourself a Merry Little…

The Smile

It was that feeling of being late when you want to get somewhere. Really want to—not like work where they’ll sigh and lower their eyes to their keyboards. “Late again?” someone would ask. “Traffic,” Hank would lie.

No, this was the Event. Hank’s sister’s friend’s cousin’s ex worked security for the Texas Theater. He’d scored tickets for the premiere of the year. More accurately, the first premiere of 2022. Hank couldn’t believe it. The star, Olivia Sloan, was coming, in person, to the red carpet. Punctuality mattered.

Hank was ready. Cool shirt, nice jacket, pressed pants, cool shoes. And sitting in traffic in the canyon when his mother called.

“Henry?”
“Yes, Mom.”

“You need to come get your brother.”

“What?! I’m on my way to the premiere. Olivia will be there.”

“You need to come get your brother. He can go too.”

You didn’t say no to Henry—to Hank’s mother. You didn’t ask why. You just said fine.

“Fine. But we can’t be late. Have him ready.”

“Thank you, Henry. The app says you’re two miles away but 20 minutes out. He’s waiting for you.”

Hank’s little brother Jeremy, twenty years younger, was Hank’s cousin, adopted when his mother lost her battle with cancer not long after his father had been killed in a car accident. Henry—Hank—had been the youngest until he became an older brother.

The traffic cleared quickly—onlooker slowdown for an upside-down semi that had spilled its milk load—and Hank made it to his mother’s house in 10 minutes. Jeremy was ready all right, but ready for what? He wore a bright orange Christmas sweater, the kind usually reserved for ugly day. It had flashing lights, not a few, on a just-cut fir tree hauled in a red pickup. Hank’s heart sank. It was too late to wrangle a change.

“Y’all pick up Whataburger for supper.”

“Sure, Mom.” Hank knew there was no point in telling her that’s what he’d had for lunch. Jeremy beamed and slid into the front seat, peppering Hank with questions. “What’s the movie about? When is it over? Can we get popcorn? How close can we sit? Wanna share a drink?”

Hank drove with determination but replied: “Zombies. 8:30. Yes if Mom sent money. Not very. No.”

Jeremy didn’t care what the answers were, particularly, just smiled, and started singing “Feliz Navidad.” Hank couldn’t help himself and hummed along. In another 10 minutes they were at the Texas. Parking karma is a real thing and Hank didn’t have it. But somehow, there it was—a spot just around the corner.

“Come on, Jer. It’s a miracle. We’re going to be on time.”
Sure enough, the crowd had formed around the red carpet, lots of photogs with their big lenses and black bags over their shoulders. This wasn’t Hollywood, so there weren’t but four, but the crowd was young and enthusiastic. “Here they come!” someone shouted.

Sure enough, three limos were turning on to Jefferson. Not limos, really. SUVs. This was Dallas, after all. They pulled up to the curb. Olivia was the first one out. She was in a sky-blue sequined gown. Stunningly beautiful. Even for Hollywood. The crowd went wild. “Liv-vy, Liv-vy, Liv-vy!”

A boy’s voice rang out: “Olivia, Hank and I are over here!”

She turned toward the sound and saw a frantically waving boy, lighted shirt flashing. “Hey, you! Hi, Hank! Merry Christmas!”

And she smiled. Beauty. Smiling at Hank and Jeremy. “Merry Christmas!” Hank shouted. Olivia smiled ever more brightly and waved back.

 

How It Happened

A beach for Christmas had sounded lovely—warm not snowy, bright not dull. Jilly had lived in Bethel, Alaska for 30 years, teaching grade school math. She hadn’t expected Paris on the Kuskokwim; the recruiting brochures cleared that romanticism. Coming from deep East Texas with its piney woods, she knew the winters would be long and dark, but she hadn’t realized what it would be like to go for months without the sun. an exaggeration, of course, but the idea of heat on her face in December felt ecstatic.

Luckily, Jilly brought her own husband. Jake was a writer and made a good living in the greeting card and paint naming worlds, when he wasn’t working on the Great American novel. One Christmas, though, he went on a trip to research glaciers since obviously the GAN needed an Alaskan perspective by a Texas. He never came back. Park rangers found his gear close to a moulin, the opening to an underground ice river. You fall in, you’re gone. They said it would’ve been quick.

Jilly sighed and cried. Nothing to do otherwise, but she imagined his horror not so much at his impending death as at the realization she’d never know. She’d have no goodbyes, nothing to bury. Jilly imagined him slipping, falling, hollering “Jillian, I love you…sorry!”

Five years later, she was a young 65, independent and capable and suddenly retired. Going back to Texas was an option but just seemed like too much trouble. “Let me get through one more winter,” she thought. “Maybe then.”

Among the comforts in the years past had been regular calls from Jake’s friend Liam. Every few months, he’d called and asked after her health, the weather, her plans for Christmas. So when he told her he was going to a friend’s condo in Cabo San Lucas and wondered if she’d like to meet him there, she wasn’t really too surprised. They’d laughed and joked during those five years, after all. The friend had plenty of room, the price was right, and the thought of 85 degree days and a 75 degree ocean appealed. Getting there, well, not so easy, but doable.

The two weeks flew by. Conversation at dinners, snorkeling lessons, new friends and friends of friends. A tan, of sorts. Jilly thought she could bear the months until summer and floated a realistic plan for moving back to Texas. Liam was silent, oddly for him, and looked out into the gulf.

For the last party of the trip, Jilly chose her favorite blue dress. She knew Liam liked it—it matched her eyes, he’d said. It wasn’t flirty, exactly, she reasoned. They walked along a rocky path near the water. Suddenly a gull flew over and behind her head, startling her. Jilly turned quickly, lost her balance, and fell into the ditch, just a foot deep but enough to startle them both. Embarrassed but determined not to complain, Jilly apologized. She was going to need help getting up and out.

Liam took Jilly by the hand and pulled her up. One sandal had slipped off, so she kept his hand while she bent over to slip it back on.

“There,” she said.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

Off they went to the inn. Liam did not let go of Jilly’s hand, and that is how it happened.

White Elephant

Lovely dinner, she thought, but how had she missed the white elephant part of the invitation? the most fun and laugh-y time each year, after memories shared of other parties with sometimes-scandalous and therefore memorable gifts and she only had two grapefruit in a Christmas bag for the hostess so slipped them under the tree—thank goodness the bag was cute even if recycled and she was way down on the numbers so might not get to pick herself and didn’t have to tell she brought it anyway, right? and when someone opened a candle, jam selection, and bodywash package—she thought she might like to steal it and people would get suspicious if she actually took the grapefruit although she felt bad about them, who wouldn’t? and someone remembered to bring the Real White Elephant, a little ceramic number trimmed in gold when someone else opened another, even nicer one so there had to be discussion about whether to have a double-elephant tradition or what since finding a place for it was always a hassle since you had to remember where it was since no one would steal it, but was that an actual rule? no one knew and other gifts were stolen if they were pretty good like the Texas Roadhouse gift, as if who wouldn’t but the nice smelling stuff still seemed fine and getting the gift certificate wasn’t likely anyway and even if it was would make her feel really guilty but luckily someone had brought a bug zapper which, in spite of all odds, got stolen too but after she did score the candle etc. people, well, the women, felt sorry for her and no one stole it which made her feel only medium guilty and, when it was all over, someone proclaimed, “Only two people understood the white elephant concept—the ones who brought the zapper and the grapefruit,” so she was vindicated if a little bit guilty

 

As the Bridegroom to His Chosen

Audience is an essential element of planning. But how to approach that today? Those who are members of the Church on hearing that I was sealed to my husband last Friday will be so pleased to hear it. They might send congratulations. Surely there would be smiles, or a tear or two.

Those who don’t share my faith tradition would have no idea what I mean, much less why it matters. Most have been to weddings in not just other Christian denominations but perhaps in Jewish or Hindu or Baha’i communities. We’ve seen the pageantry of royal weddings in Westminster Abbey. If not in person at least on film, we’ve seen marriages in Las Vegas neon spots. Mountain tops, beaches, bottom of the ocean, top of the sky in parachutes. Living rooms, judges’ offices, backyards, malls, caves. Anywhere, really, that you can imagine.

Most things associated with weddings do not happen in sealings. People sometimes think it is just a wedding with only church members present, but that is not correct. There are no flowers, no attendants, no processions, no music, no candles, no rings, no speeches. No crowds, no applause, no money payment, no personalization of vows.

What, then, is there? All temples are beautiful, regardless of their size. The sealing rooms also vary in size, but they have several things in common: an altar at which the couple kneels, mirrors on two sides of the room which give a hint of limitless, continuation, light and white from crystal chandeliers and most of the décor, and the clothing. Simplicity that does not detract; understated elegance that elevates.

Three elements make up the sealing: the place, the words, the authority.

A temple is a dedicated structure. Only members with a valid, current recommendation from their ecclesiastical leaders can enter. That may sound exclusionary, but it’s not. Being a member of the Church is obviously a choice, but so is temple attendance. It is more like being on a path than confronting an obstacle. People who want to go can do so, realizing that the “want to” involves not only desire but agreement to leave behind certain behaviors and to accept certain conditions. A temple is not a place of casual commitments or curiosity but of serious, thoughtful decisions and preparations.

The words spoken in temple ceremonies are sacred. They are not repeated outside the temple. A distinction exists between secret and sacred. One simply means “hidden,” while the other means “set apart, consecrated, holy.” Out in the world, however, we are most likely to hear that “Nothing is sacred.” That perspective is exactly why the words, precious and astonishing as they are, should not be out in the world. The separation allows their specialness a place where they will not be trampled or demeaned. It would not be exaggerating, however, to say that the promises made are breathtaking in their hope, their beauty, and their power.

The authority vested in anyone who performs a marriage ceremony flows from a source. A sealing is also a civil union, meaning that either immediately before or at some time in the past, the relevant civic unit issues a license. The officiator of a ceremony validates, or puts into effect, that license. In temples, the sealer holds that authority, but its source is not from a school or a government or even from the Internet. When Christ tells Peter that what he seals on earth will be sealed in Heaven, this is the authority that is meant.

One final word: My husband died in July 2020. In July 2021, after a year, this sealing could be offered to him by proxy. He can accept it or not. The tears shed quietly on Friday were of joy and expectation of the hope that he will. There is no more “until death do us part.” The lighted ball at Reunion Tower (and yes, you can be married there) was covered in red hearts Friday evening. A coincidence? Of course. A sign from Heaven? Perhaps. Eternity and infinity are terms human minds cannot grasp. We can see their symbols all around. We can love, forever, and most of us believe it does last into whatever comes next. How sweet and good that feels on a Monday.

(I didn’t want to distract with links. That doesn’t mean you can’t look at some. Here a young woman summarizes what a temple marriage is like. Here is a picture of a sealing room in a temple in Chile. The relevant scripture references. “As the Bridegroom to His Chosen” is the song on my mind recently and hence the title.)

 

 

 

Light(in)g Christmas

We are light. You’ve heard that we’re made of stardust, which is true in that we are made of atoms formed in stars. This article has a nice chart for our parts and explains the concept. But that is just what we’ve made of, not what we are or what we do which is to—emit or emanate—light. We hear the first idea—that we are light—all the time, but we don’t take it seriously. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine…” and we should take that admonition literally.

What is light? Going to the dictionary, as one does, I found an amazing list. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve seen its like. Merriam-Webster offers 54 definitions, plus all the a’s and b’s; Webster’s 1828 offers 58. A favorite, the Online Etymological Dictionary at first looked disappointing, with only 5…until I read the top of the page: 623 entries and the bottom: 63 pages. Ah. No, I haven’t read them all, but I was glad to see it.

By “We are light” I don’t mean we’re like the beings in Cocoon (1985). The Antareans are in human skins, more or less, but shed them for various reasons. Here is a clip in which humans see this happen for the first time. No, when you scratch us, we bleed.

The easiest explanation is that we are warm. Heat emits radiation, which is a form of light. Thermal energy makes night vision goggles work. Think of Tom Cruise in the ice water bath, Minority Report (2002). The police can see every resident even through walls because of their heat signatures. There is much more to us than just warmth, though.

A 2018 post called “Happy Hallowthankmas” discusses the phenomenon of holiday blending. (It also contains a poem called “A Farewell.” This time of year is hard for many—either newly, lately or long-time-feeling (there must be a single word for that in German, but I just mean “grieving.”) In general, there is some griping about the decorations going up for Christmas before Halloween. Sometimes more than griping. I have reconsidered the complaint because I now believe that it is the light of Christmas that people are seeking, that the seeking is a good thing, and that this is no accident.

One of Christ’s names is “Light of the World.” However, the same is applied to His disciples. In many religions, knowledge is referred to as light, as opposed to darkness. These two short pages explain how that works. That is not to say that people are consciously seeking to learn about the Savior. I’d expect many would reject that out of hand. Regardless of intent, it is the resulting action: Light responding to light.

That seeking is an activity is heard this time of year as “Let’s go see the lights.” Here and here are two guides for our area. Millions of lights are on view, in our town and throughout the world. In contrast, we also love fireworks, but these spectacular events don’t last for weeks, just a night. (Disney has the exception.) Going out to see the lights offers a great way to be in a car with the family; no devices allowed. And the seeking might also be determined as following. We think of heliotropic plants such as sunflowers, but animals also seek light, per the definition.

So the language we use and the connection we seek concerning light seem to form an essential link to something more, to something higher. Aaron D Franklin, a professor of chemical and electrical engineering and chemistry at Duke University, wrote The Spiritual Physics of Light: How We See, Feel, and Know Truth to explain the connections between the things we understand and those we only sense. He begins with a trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico where he experienced complete darkness for the first time. Eyes never adjust because there is nothing to adjust to; a minute is about as long as anyone feels comfortable, he reports. I’ve also been in caves. We once visited McDonald Observatory in far west Texas. They have a room that can be completely dark, an odd feeling, almost tangible nothingness.

It’s difficult to summarize a book I don’t completely understand. Dr. Franklin has a website with colored illustrations and links to interviews. Any details have faded in the weeks since I finished reading it. Regardless, I can say the thin volume was life-affirming in a way that I don’t remember any other book being. Ever. Yes, I know and have experienced that faith is stronger than knowledge. This is not about either. Rather, it felt like a confirmation of both—that what I believe is not based on fairy tales but on science. None of us knows how prayer “works,” for example, but that it might be as easily explained as Bluetooth makes it no less a wonder. It is no accident, then, that for this particular holiday, for Christmas, it’s not the colors, the parties, the gifts, even the love that reminds us of another world. As the world grows darker, we seek more and more light. It’s only natural, only our natures, to do so.

We are light. So is everything else. It is symbol as well as science. What could be more wonderful than a gift of that truth?