Life is good. I think you might agree. You may have said it on a beach somewhere, beer in hand, or at sunrise on a snowy February morning. Or maybe you’ve thought it quietly to yourself in a private moment. But have you meant it?
I didn’t. Not until recently, anyway. I found the “life is good” moments too short-lived and sustained joy difficult to attain, like trying to bottle sunbeams. I always wanted—expected—more than the world provided. I awaited a Hogwarts letter that never came. I stood dumbfounded when an infant I knew passed away. I sat perplexed. Why? Because there’s so much bad in our corner of the world. Evil even. Evil often. So many betrayed hearts, lost souls, senseless deaths, drudgery and tears. How could people be so positive? How could they say “life is good” with so much certitude?
You see, life had made me a realist. I’d never believed in much. Not in God or Buddha—I was never tempted by an ideology or creed. I found them cheesy, forced, fanciful. I was envious of people who had even the slightest inkling of what life might be about. I was a girl with unfinished opinions, with jumbled notes on life, scribbled in the margins.
I tried mass. I tried praying. Again sitting. Again perplexed and unmoved. Because God, whatever I conceived him to be, did not present himself to me in the walls of a church. Not in the words of a book. Not in the practice of a religion.
I found God in science instead.
It all started over summer when I heard about this class. Good old ratemyprofessor.com and a handful of testimonials to its credit. It fulfilled a lab requirement for the biology major. The Internet profile had a smiley face and a hot pepper to boot, and no students seemed to have anything negative to say. One senior friend even summed it up as “life-changing.” I rolled my eyes and clicked “Enroll.”
For four hours every Wednesday morning, I start my day by dissecting a lamprey fish, and maybe a cat limb or two. I examine the muscle margins—an adductor here, a flexor there. I tear, and I squeeze. I pat down, and I probe. I sit at the interface between man and death, desperately searching for knowledge that convinces. I want to believe in something, anything.
I slice into flesh and tear back the walls that contain this lifeless thing, and I am pulled in return. Pulled by the interconnectedness of the fibers and systems. Pulled by the unfathomable specialization across phyla. Pulled by the shared fate of this thing and myself. Pulled by the detail. Nudged by the collision of touch and thought. I trace where the clavobrachialis originates and attaches. I note its place amid the other muscles. I consider the synergy. And now I feel, at long last, that some force, some “God” wants us to live, in this exquisite organic shell that binds us. These dissections inspire thoughts of greater world synergy. I have faith in this subtle, soft-speaking truth.
Now I believe: Life is a deeply complicated protagonist, its light made more meaningful by its sobering darkness. If not for the pain, happiness might not taste so sweet. If not for the evil, how then might the good affect us? It is this backdrop that lends our earthly pursuits and deepest passions new meaning.
I think we’re part of some cosmic secret—together swirling in one eddy in the stardust of time. Perhaps we came here to live, to experience, to dissect, to endure, to love and to die.
Consider how elegant a notion this might be. That our bodies give back to the Earth, she who bore us. That we are here now, out of all the times we might have been, out of all the souls that could be. That when we die, we are allowing others to step in, to partake and to parse out the good.
Before we were born, where were we? What were we? Stardust awaiting its turn I think. Waiting for this moment. To dance in the eddies and try out our moves.
Gracie Willert is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Friday.