Louise, I went as fast as I could. You were drawing your final, heavy breaths, while I was drawing ancient, arcane syllogisms. This was our last chance to speak together in this life. We understood that all too well, and so I hurried, disentangled myself from logic and leapt across the ocean. Yet, in the end, we missed each other. I could not shake loose the tethers quickly enough, and your last smoky breath slipped away.
Humanity often ponders over her mortality, and she thinks she knows “all too well” the deep link between the material and the temporal. She doesn’t, not really. Aristotle and Einstein, though, they were individuals who did truly understand: time is matter. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains them best, writing, “This state of motion is said to be essential–that is, natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement, as it is the essential requirement of fire to burn.”
We can think of this two ways, first, that existence and motion are co-extensive, quite quantumly and ontologically so. We sat beside each other at the Pesach table, Louise, as we frequently did, and yet all along we were also speeding past one another. Descartes saw the truth but could not bear it, that proximity is real at only one level of understanding and experience; at another, we are constituted of nomadic existents, and so we journey in unseen lands.
Or, second, as Bahá’u’lláh has written, that fate is of two varieties, one irrevocable, the other revocable by divine decree, that is, in response to prayer and entreaty. In this life, we are marked by a tantalizing and terrifying obscurity, for we can never know with certainty which of these might constitute any given event. The author who pens our story loves us dearly and adheres as best He can to the contours of our innermost narratives, yet He still has a plot to maintain, as well.
These two interpretations intersect for me in you, Louise, my aunt, the grandmother I never had. And in that junction, this summation by Bahá’u’lláh solemnly speaks true: “Thou hast committed into mine hands a trust from Thee, and hast now according to the good-pleasure of Thy Will called it back to Thyself. It is not for me, who am a handmaid of Thine, to say, whence is this to me or wherefore hath it happened, inasmuch as Thou art glorified in all Thine acts, and art to be obeyed in Thy decree.”
Thus, with your passing, I understand a little more, and I also understand a little less. Hegel would simply smile and nod, I’m sure. Yet, through the shifting mists of insight and confusion, things unsaid, things that only you and I, as the professional philosophers of the Schwartz clan, could share and love, begin to echo through.
Phenomenal and the nouminal, potentiality and actuality, matter and spirit — the philosophers’ vocabulary of division and duality. A picture emerges of duality, on the one side a physical world of where and when, on the other side a dimension of nowhere, when and no-when. Here is causality and motion; there, well, a non-there. The two have nothing to do with each other. Let Hades be; we’ll busy ourselves with Terra.
Or at least so we Moderns have long wanted to believe. Our researches into quantum mechanics increasingly seem to bend the philosophers’ hard distinctions to the breaking point. To our horror, our concrete here is made of quarks and shadows. We realize that Hades bestrides, enshrouds, and permeates Terra. We wander the Elysian Fields now, in our offices, our classrooms, our bedrooms, our thoughts and dreams.
Does this mean that we are already dead and risen? Have we already decomposed into the trace elements of silence? And in the strings of quanta, intertwined in the great lattice of being, do we already exist forever? Are we right now those strings, vibrating and trembling and singing beyond the reach of the microscopes of religion and the rituals of science?
It is with a bemused pen that I report the passing of John Grady, the director of La Salle University‘s Honors Program. Rightfully considered a pioneer of honors programs among small liberal arts colleges, for 34 years Mr. Grady was a major influence on the careers and lives of hundreds of La Salle graduates — myself (proudly) included. As with the passing of Dr. Michael Kerlin, a professor whom I deeply loved, Mr. Grady’s abscence will take some time to fathom.
Other weblogs covering Mr. Grady’s passing:
- Chevron Says… (and a memorial, “The Devout Educator,” available here)
- Perpetual Priest
- The Expatriate