We all live on the edge of everything. And I mean everything. Death, life, love, hate, happiness, misery, annihilation. We are tight-rope walkers, blindly and blithely unobservant to the abyss falling away beneath our feet. We are reluctant to open our eyes.
Everything crowds up around us, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. The tiny engines of cellular industry, invisible to our eye and rarely ever considered by us, industriously whirl and churn away inside our cells, RNA and DNA and mitochondria, as busy and busier than even the most sophisticated factory man possesses. Their minute movements preserve us from millisecond to millisecond. By their industry we stay alive.
And on the far side of the ruler, the universe looms in massive and ponderous majesty. I once wrote a passage about the boy Jute, the beleaguered main character of my Tormay trilogy, that he dreamt he lay upon the ground, staring up into the night sky, and soon found himself fancying that he was on the prow of a ship, rushing through an incredible and endless darkness. Our planet is like that. We stand upon its surface and it rushes through the solar system at frightening speed, swinging about the sun. And our solar system itself, bounded and baling-wired about with gravity, rushes through our Milky Way galaxy, turning on the spiral arm. And our galaxy, a modest one of billions, in turn hurtles through the dark corridors of the universe. While all this is happening, all this speed and distance and darkness and time, we continue on our way, puttering off to work or school or the store, oblivious and mostly content.
The edge of everything is everywhere else as well. Electricity flows down the lines, keeping us lit and warm. Tankers roll across the miles to bring us fuel. Semis haul in food. Countless worker bees swarm about the cables and ones and zeros of the internet, bringing us our daily consumption of news and not-news and Justin Bieber. Our money still works, blithely again, mostly due to trust and assumptions and some good will and a great deal of greed.
Even the starlight shines on the edge of everything. When we look up into the night and see those stars, what we see are not the stars themselves, but the memory of stars. The remembrance of them. That light has traveled millions of miles to get to our eyes and, perhaps, by the time we look up and see them, the stars have already died and gone cold and dark. They fell over the edge of everything and we can only enjoy their lonely light, their memories.
All of this teeters on the edge of everything. Fine-tuned, but teetering.
And our very own lives balance on that same precipice. This is the same for christian or for atheist, muslim or self-absorbed hedonist. One minute we are happily examining the annual return on our 401k, the next minute the thin wall of an aorta gives out in a pulse of exhaustion and we are flat on our back on the floor, staring up at the final glimpse. At that point we either tip over into heaven or hell or into nothingness, if the atheist’s hopes are real. Both options, regardless of final destinations, are still the edge of everything.
It is either a brave or foolish thing to create, to writes stories or make films or carve sculptures, when one is standing on the edge of everything. All those writers who wrote before, Steinbeck and Hemingway and Camus and Dickens and all their kin, they all fell over the edge and are gone. Their words have remained for us, but we are soon to fall as well. The words stay balanced on the edge, but for what purpose?
Some physicists believe that a dark matter binds the universe together, an unseen material that moves with purpose and power between those atoms that are known to us. Those atoms that also teeter along with us. Christians believe that it is God himself that binds existence into form, that his word, much more powerful and lasting than Steinbeck’s writing, weaves meaning out of chaos and keeps things balanced on that knife-edge.
Whichever belief is true, regardless of what we think, we truly do live on the edge of everything. And everything is crowded up around us, the past, the present, and the future. Everything a moment away.