Remembering How to Breathe

There is a cosmological model that posits that every time some probabilistic event happens in the universe, reality forks into two or more universes, one where each possible outcome has occurred. In other words, when you flip a coin you immediately spawn two universes: one where you get heads and another where you get tails. It is a popular staple of science fiction stories, where infinite numbers of universes are there to explore.

On those occasions when I choose to consider this model, I like to put a little twist on it. I am convinced that the vast majority of dice throws simply don’t matter for more than a short period of time, that many of the spawned universes rapidly collapse into their identical neighbors. In this way, instead of an infinite number of threads each branching infinitely rapidly into infinitely more threads, you have a map that looks more like woven cloth or macrame: there is rapid branching and forking but there are also trends where threads coalesce into larger threads, groups, ropes, patterns. The total number of threads might even remain relatively constant, though from a microscopic point of view things can be chaotic, complex, and unpredictable.

And then there are the knots and tangles.

If I have been crawling along a thread in this meta-universe, then I am currently tangled up in a knot. Many different parts of my world are converging. Some threads are breaking (lots of death), some long-parallel threads are diverging, I am coming into proximity with people and ideas that were previously quite separate, and a lot of important people and passions and activities from my past have suddenly become prominent again. There is no clear picture which thread I will be on when I emerge, which direction I will be traveling, what threads I will remain close to and which will find a direction that takes them away from mine.

As with any good tangle, it is deceptive. Several times, the thread I was on seemed to be headed clear of the knot, only to dive suddenly right back into the middle of it. When I started (and titled) this little excretion, I was finding myself able to get some perspective, savor the exciting promise of the new and rediscovered avenues before me without feeling overwhelmed, and have some sense of the meaning and purpose of the losses that have made these past few weeks so… memorable. In particular, I realized that I had let some important parts of my life be buried by what appeared to be immediate exigencies, but which were persistent and became merged into the fabric of daily life. Parts of life that were vital but undemanding were being systematically subdued. A benefit of catastrophe is that it can reconnect us with what is important when we have become overwhelmed with the mundane: we remember how to breathe.

But this thread was not yet clear of the knot. Today it dove back in. Bad? Good? I won’t know until I can look back at it. I hope to be able to remain in contact with the good and important people and things that I have discovered or rediscovered. I crave a span of straight, free-running thread with a relatively predictable course and the comfort of steadily parallel threads and some sense of what the future might hold. Such craving aside, though, this cataclysm has been an awakening, a redemptive experience.

May you, too, live in interesting times.

RonRisley – 31 Mar 2005