While my experience at Saints Rest is unique, events throughout my life have inspired feelings in me that are almost identical to those I experience at the coffee shop. As a small child, these feelings were everywhere: in snowflakes, arithmetic problems, fireflies, and musical comedies. When I was eleven, catching fireflies in the backyard of my Missouri home, I remember becoming actively aware of these feelings. For a brief moment, the night froze all around me. The Missouri night sky brightened and became more full of color. I remember glancing down at my jar of fireflies and realizing that the fireflies had somehow become a part of me and I a part of them. I then looked up at the world and saw that together the fireflies and I formed an integral part of the evening scene. I hoped this connection would last after I let the fireflies go.
As I grew to the age at which catching fireflies was no longer a routine activity, I fell in love with choral singing. Towards the end of my high school career, I participated in a national women's choir, an experience that again evoked the feeling of being a participant in some sort of greater whole. In our final concert, I understood how Mozart in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus perceived music, with "all the sounds multiplying and rising together-and then together making a sound entirely new!" Mozart says, 'That's how God hears the world...Millions of sounds ascending and mixing in his ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us!" For a fleeting moment during that concert, I caught a glimpse of what it might feel like to be Shaffer's God.
When I started college, I was determined to learn more about the universe and its components. I thought that gaining scientific knowledge might give me insight into my hunch that I was a part of something much greater than myself. Early in my first year, I became intrigued by the idea that the universe behaves mathematically. I intuited that because mathematics could describe physical laws, it must have some sort of ethereal reality of its own. I continued in my studies of mathematical physics, though at the time I saw no immediate application of it to myself or to my growing impression that I was a part of a greater whole.
In the summer before my junior year, I worked as an undergraduate intern at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. For many weeks, I sat in front of my computer trying to create a spectral model that could explain my planetary nebulae observations. As I neared the anticipated end of my research, I had no concrete results. I became discouraged, fearing that all my hard work would be in vain and worrying that I had perhaps chosen the wrong field of study. Then one dreary July afternoon, I came back from lunch and woke up my computer to check the results of my most recent, likely futile attempt to find an accurate description of my data. My heart skipped a beat when the screen came up and I saw the degree to which my latest model resembled the observed X-ray spectrum. "But this can't be," I whispered to myself. 'The paper I read promised that this model wouldn't work." Yet, there it was, right in front of my eyes.
After double-checking my results, I realized that I had just communicated with an object that was thousands of light-years away. The universe had told me a secret. At that moment, feelings of being part of not only a larger whole, but an infinite harmony, overwhelmed me. Unlike my fleeting connection to the fireflies or my brief moment of awe during the national choral performance, I realized that although the excitement I felt would eventually fade, my perception of my part and place in the universe was changed at its core. As I continued to stare dumbfounded at the screen that afternoon, I recognized that my most fundamental home was much larger than the Saints Rest Coffee Shop or any concert hall I could imagine. My home, instead, was simply the universe itself. Slowly, I began to see how every component in the universe, though perhaps not essential to the universe as a whole, is connected to and dependent upon every other component. Just as each audience me mber at a Too Many Strin gs Band concert is instrumental in contributing to the experience of every other attendant, so each component of the universe makes unique and vital contributions to the whole of reality. More exhilarated than ever, I finally realized that I contribute one piece of a magnificent, infinitely large puzzle that constitutes the mystery of the universe.