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The cheetah and the gazelle.

Last week a friend mentioned a podcast in which a professor explained some of his latest research on synesthesia. Synesthesia sounds like something that should be scary and horrible, but it isn't. Our daughter's case just means she sees colors when she hears numbers. Like, if someone says the number 4, she sees purple. She experiences a similar sort of thing when she reads a music score or hears a note. For her, the notes have colors.

The research had caused the professor to start reconsidering the human relationship to the material world. Take, for example, what we experience as a cheetah chasing a gazelle. There is this thing we recognize as a cheetah, and there is this thing we recognize as a gazelle. Then there is the process we identify as a cheetah hunting, catching, and eating the gazelle. But if we strip away our language and general conceptualization of what we think we're experiencing, it is really a transaction of energy--energy interacting with energy, and energy converting energy. And when we get into the subatomic level, conversion of energy is the conversion of the conversion of energy. It's cause and effect, source and spout. Same, same. It's not a reunification, but more the removal of the facade of multiplicity. (Please forgive any errors, suppositions, or false attributions in this thirdhand account.)

These sorts of ideas could keep physicists, ethicists, and theologians discussing...and cussing...for years. They are not mentioned here for debate, though.

They are offered as a long-winded introduction of a friend, a friend who spends his free-time listening to podcasts of professors talking about rare neurological conditions and conceptualizations of the universes.

We often talk on the phone but rarely see one another. When we do get time together, we tend to spend a lot of it walking. Walking and talking. We've walked in snow and in withering heat. We've walked in rain. We've walked hurriedly and leisurely. We've walked in various cities around the country. We've walked and walked.

He grew up Catholic, going to Catholic schools. He may or may not go to mass anymore, and it's not clear if he considers himself Catholic. We would have to ask him to know for sure, on both counts. But what we do know is that he has said the reality of God is "baked into" him. On this point he is certain, and so are we.

He works in an office, a paper-pusher in a gigantic bureaucracy. If he had been born in a different time and place, he might have spent his life relying on a sextant and compass. Such is his fascination with the cosmos.

He tends to choose 900-page tomes over half-hour sitcoms. Of course there are plenty of great minds who would do the same thing, so he is not necessarily unusual there. Where his great mind might be a bit unusual is that his opting for that 900-page tome is wrapped up in thankfulness. It isn't so much intellectual curiosity as it is intellectual gratitude (or perhaps grateful intellect?). His kindness grows with his mind. The expansion of understanding is the expansion of the capacity to love. In a way, it's a science of love.

The order of the phrasing--a science of love--is enormously important. It places love as the object, and science as the medium, not the other way around. It's the difference in seeing one's mind as a file cabinet for storing vast quantities of knowledge versus experiencing it as a banquet where one is surprisingly invited to partake. It's vivifying and encouraging and uplifting, as is he.

The Qur'an says, if God had so willed, God would have made us all one people. Our differences should cause us to strive, like in a race, in all virtue. (Qur'an 5:48). Well, thanks be to God that we can run at different speeds but still walk together. Because if truth be known, when walking side-by-side, step-in-step with this friend, his back is usually the view from the race.



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