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Welcome, strangers

There is no doubt about it. The world can be an abrasive place to live in. It can just be awful. Maddeningly insensitive things take place here. You hope for something better and - WHAMMO - you get blasted. People starve. Nations fight. It gets very disappointing, not to mention exhausting. The earth isn't always the greatest place on earth. If you have lived honestly, I don't have to tell you this.

Having written that, and having acknowledged its truth, I look around our study. There is so much in this little room to be grateful for: Gifts from friends. Precious books. Warmth. Light. On one wall hangs the Sierra Club's Galaxies Calendar. This month, a glossy photo of the M83 galaxy has been featured - an awesome, glowing swirl of fiery reds, blues, and yellows that exists, the calendar says, ten million light-years away and shines with the combined light of tens of billions of stars no different from that of our own sun. Such power. Such dimension. And all to be seen just above our file cabinet, to the right of the radiator. Next month (I peeked) we will be licking stamps next to the M13 galaxy, a heavenly little Easter egg blue, globular cluster parked up near the brilliant star Vega.

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The earthly woe of the first paragraph not forgotten, I continue to look at M 83. Do the heavens out there have anything to do with the heaven within us? Are we the central form of life in the universe? Such a notion tends to sound impossibly narrow; but is it? Wouldn't it really depend on your concept of the universe? If all we can see, all that our most powerful telescopes and complex instrumentation can record, all that we now conceive of as our own ''vast'' universe, is, in the larger sense of things, but a tiny bread crumb on the bottom of a breadbasket sitting in the servant's pantry of a mansion owned by some greater being in some bigger universe, you've got a different story. Our relationship with these stars would be more intimate.

We, as men and women, would then, by implication, be far greater than what we now seem to be. At the same time, we, as men and women, would be far far smaller! If indeed ''We lie in the lap of immense intelligence,'' as Emerson tells us that we, as men and women, do, it might be of renewed interest to ask: How immense ism immense?

We, as men and womenm . . . Looking away from the stars I get back down to earth and remember my last walk down the city street, past so many stoic and painful faces. Yes, it is spring and many faces have bloomed beautifully. But many haven't. And many hide their pain and trouble. Something more is wantedm. Divine discontent gets mischanneled. And for these there is the reminder from Goethe in ''The Holy Longing'': Distance does not make you falter, now, arriving in magic, flying, and, finally, insane for the light, you are the butterfly and you are gone. And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earthm.

Honest lines, these. They make me think of the M83 galaxy again, for the M83 is the supernova champion of the sky. A star goes supernova when it explodes, and the Sierra Club offers this potential metaphor in explanation: ''The energy output of a supernova during the weeks of its spectacular self-immolation may surpass that of the entire galaxy to which it belongs.'' Self-immolation is the opposite of selfishness. It is what Goethe is talking about. It is the antidote to earthly woe. What an incredible thing if a whole neighborhood of people should go supernova! The influx of light in that little galaxy would be a kind of cosmic Pentecost, though you might never hear about it on the news.

With the headlines these days it would hardly be surprising if many of us should not begin to feel more of a sense of holy longing. We belong to a secular society capable of wiping itself out in a morning. This is . . . ugly, horrific. The deep science with which we've brilliantly come to grips is a boon. But empirical knowledge isn't the whole story. And it will be a bust if we don't see our need of turning more toward a deep morality - the warm joy and strength that comes with self-immolation.

Our link with our deeply moral Judeo-Christian tradition has been worn thin over the past 50 years; we have developed a highly scientific view of the universe. What about a highly moral view? We know about physical force. What about moral force? Einstein asked whether the universe was friendly, knowing the answer. The creator of the seashell, the seahorse, and the music of the spheres can not be a heartless principle. We lie in the lap of immense intelligencem. Hey! In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the stars sing togetherm!

I initially started off wanting to write an essay about something different. It would have been an essay comparing the approach and outlook between one who has been raised to compete and one who has been raised to nurture; it would have examined the differences between a drive to win, and a desire to heal. What does it feel like to be a medic in the Army, for example? To spend your life learning how to take care of people - and then to walk out onto the freshly littered battlefield?

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But, in looking over the essay, I see that has been covered somewhat.

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