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  • “I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.”
    Albert Einstein

    “For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly—and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.”

    “If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially ‘playing dice with the universe’, then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.”

    “But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives.”
    Albert Einstein
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Call me naive, call me a dreamer, call me what you will - I still believe that I live in a friendly universe. I will grant you, there are times that it confuses the hell out of me, and I find myself reeling, and asking a lot of “Why?”’s - "Why did she have to get struck by that car, that day, that way?" "Why does that beautiful little girl have to go through what she has to go through, just to get a fighting chance to live?" "Why? Why? Why?" Why do I get the sensation of shifting sands beneath my feet and go off in search of more solid footing, and feel like something important has been lost, or that I missed a turn somewhere, or I’m doing too much, or I’m not doing enough, or I’m just not getting “it”, or I had “it” but misplaced “it’ somewhere back there – where? Why?

    During times like this, those “nattering nabobs of negativity” get dangerously close to my psyche. I start listening to their bullshit. I begin to wonder – “am I really just full of shit?” When I have no ready answer to that question, I really begin to wonder.
  • But then, something happens... you hear something, you see something, or someone tries to convince you of something, that you just know is not right. “No! That’s not it! Might be in your world, but not in mine, no sir!” And, something else happens. You start to get a slight sense that maybe things aren’t really as bad as all that. You begin to find your way back into the moment, and it starts to fall back into place. Then, the universe reveals itself, once again, as the friendly place you knew it to be, all along.

    A family elder once said, as she held up her hand, “when you get to the end of your life, if you can count on one hand the number of true friends you've had in your life, you will know that you’ve led a very rich life, indeed”. When you’re young and you have a ton of friends who you feel are all “true”, you scoff at such statements. As you get older, they begin to ring a little more true.

    I have a dear friend who I haven’t seen in well over a year. She’s been a leading scientist on the world stage. We forged the unlikeliest of friendships during the time we worked together in the Office of Public Health Science and beyond, a friendship that now spans 10 years. This brilliant lady, who has had a significant impact as a scientific leader at a global level, has always treated me as her equal, and has always been one of my greatest champions. Our friendship has gone to the very deepest levels of truthfulness and honesty with each other, with levels of trust to match. We could each say just about anything to the other, and we have.

    She just showed up in my doorway out of the blue today, while I was eating lunch at my desk. This used to be her office, many, many moons ago, and I’ve moved in here since we last saw each other. She was just passing by when she heard my voice, and peaked her head around the door. She came in when she saw it was me. We only chatted for, maybe, 5 minutes - but, she's so efficient, we covered a ton of ground in those few short minutes. In the presence of such a friend, a level of truth that you didn't even know was there just shows up, from deep within. And, it did. Wow! Did that ever hit the spot!

    She was on her way to a meeting somewhere else in town, and I had a conference call after that, so we compared schedules, and decided to get together later this afternoon. This may or may not happen. I know her. She’s going to be all over the District this afternoon, taking meetings here and there, and might not be able to circle back this way.

    But, that's o.k. - that 5 minutes with a true friend was golden. I’m reminded of a line from a Jackson Browne song, “The Late Show” -

    “But when you know that you've got a real friend somewhere, suddenly all the others are so much easier to bear.”
  • We’ve been through the fires together, she and I. I’ll never forget the time she was wrapping up an especially grueling 10 day trip to China, having just finished an extremely complex negotiaion and was getting ready to come back home the next day. I had to call her to tell her we were going to need her to go straight from there to South Korea to fix a serious problem that had emerged there. She was desperately homesick and my heart just broke for her that she had to go on for another week, in another country, when she just really needed to come home. She was willing to do it, because she knew she really had no choice and so much depended on it. But, she was just so desperately homesick.

    When I was able to call her back later that evening to tell her the problem had gotten fixed, and we didn’t need her to go to Korea after all, she went out and bought a string of beautiful genuine Chinese pearls for Kathy, which she insisted on giving to me, she was so grateful. She was, and is, a real class act.

    I can talk to this friend about anything under the sun, and always know that it will always be between she and I. She knows the same is true of me. She has a wickedly sharp sense of humor, and just to have had 5 minutes out of the blue with a friend like her, really made my day.

    The nattering nabobs are nowhere in sight,
    As the universe, she shines so brightly this night.
    A most friendly place, it is.
    It is my home...

    "Listen, we think we have found you..." - Moody Blues, Justin Hayward, "Dawning Is the Day"

    "With a friend at hand, then you will see the light,
    If your firiends are there then everything's alright" - Bernie Taupin, for Elton John's "Friends"

    And, guess what? She made it back! We talked in my office for nearly 3 hours, until it was time for me to head to the ballbame. A perfect end of a good day. Then, to top it all off, my team won again. Yeah, the universe is alright!
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________

    (All 3 Photos by Salt Lake City photographer Royce Bair, who uses digital cameras and what he describes as a 'copious collection of portable incandescent and flash lighting equipment' to capture his unique views of the night sky over Utah's spectacular canyons. His shots of Wall Street Canyon at Bryce Canyon National Park with the stars of our own galaxy, the Milky Way blazing overhead, showcase some of his technique. Bair has been lecturing on night photography for two decades.)
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