All the Light We Choose Not to See

“It is a dark world…”, the professor typed, then grumbled at the glare on his computer screen and rose to pull the window shade. “… bleak and precarious…” (Here, his fingers left a smudge of powdered sugar on the keys, residue of the half-eaten doughnut at his elbow.) “…hostile toward continued existence.”

He scrolled up and down the page, sharpening his comments about the brutality of life in a godless universe. His eyes scanned the screen, sensing minute differences in color that his brain resolved into letter shapes and somehow buffered into a sequence of words that reproduced his ideas. His fingers flicked smoothly over the keyboard, their shape changing rapidly and gracefully in a dance that featured an astounding array of muscles and ligaments, bones, joints, and nerve endings, all choreographed by his thoughts — which at this moment focused on the undirected nature of human existence.

“What we call life”, he typed, “is not a story, but a random stream of mechanical and chemical events, including our sensations of…” – the door to his study opened, admitting his young daughter. His irritation at the interruption was balanced by the tenderness between them. She loved him, and he scooped her into his arms and promised to come to dinner in a minute, then turned back to his computer. “…chemical events, including our sensations of…”, of what? “…of meaning and purpose, which are logically unsupportable, and feelings of personal significance which are fraudulent but compelli…” – here the door opened again.

“Daddy! It’s been a minute. C’mon!” He rose and carried his princess down the hall toward the comforting smell of dinner. There was no bowing of heads before the meal, no one to whom gratitude was due. He ate, mostly listening to his daughter talk with excitement about her day, unmindful of the intricate process by which plants and animals become food, become nourishment and strength and consciousness and life.

After dinner, he returned to his study and wrote about the tribal origins of religion, unaware of the gentle sky that overshadowed his neighborhood, the cool evening air that charged his lungs and brain, the passing of the sun that had filled the house with light and warmth, the thousand little things that gave him strength to refute and comfort to ignore the one toward whom all humble things point.

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