Quadriga

Posted on January 22nd, 2008 by george.
Categories: coincidence, enlightenment, epiphany, friends, future, life, numbers, serendipity.

 

I am not making this up. 

When you finish reading this, I want you to tell me, honestly, if these sorts of things ever happen to you. I want you to tell me if you think I’m reading into this, or conjuring something out of thin air. If you think it means something, tell me what it means. If you have a salient point to share or harbor some related knowledge or you discern something I’m missing, tell me. Even if you don’t normally comment. I need help deciphering these recent experiences.

I’m going to try to weave together a story for you that includes all the important threads, but considering that every one connects to some other event, it’s impossible for me to capture the totality of meaning in one short essay. I hope it’s still cohesive.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Most of you know my friend Sholeh. In fact, I’d be surprised if you didn’t, considering the fact that, at 83, we share the most friends in common of anyone I know. Sholeh has been serving at the Baha’i World Center in Haifa for over a year now, on an 18-month term. She recently moved to a new apartment there, and shares this flat with Maryam and Laily. Maryam grew up in the Baha’i community in Orlando with many of my friends here in central Florida. In fact, I have heard nothing but glowing reports about her from Fere, Shezel, Sarah, and many others. Maryam has been serving in Haifa for over a year, and will be there for at least 16 more months. She has also spent time in Texas, so not only does she know most of my Florida friends, but she knows the Kouroshes and my Texas peeps, and everyone that I know in Haifa. We may not have as many friends in common as Sholeh and I, but I’ve been eager to meet this girl for as long as I’ve known about her. Imagine my excitement when I learned she was in the United States for two weeks and was passing through Florida.

Sarah sent out an invite on Monday, January 7th, inviting us to Maryam’s Dad’s house for a get together that Friday so we could “have dance” and enjoy “poisonous snaks.” On Thursday, January 10th, I was driving back from the Hot Hot Heat concert in Orlando with Uncle Billy. We got out earlier than usual, and after only a few minutes in the car he remarked,

“Oh look, 11:11pm.”

“That’s funny,” I said, “Why would you point that out?”

“Oh, no reason, just that my family would freak out when they saw something like that. It doesn’t mean anything to me, though.”

For the record, before I go any further, up to this point 11:11 has had no special meaning to me, and I harbor no preconceived notions about its significance. Also for the record, Bill is an atheist, has zero superstitions, is skeptical of coincidences and omens, and has never pointed out anything remotely like that to me before.

Within 24 hours, though, on Friday, January 11th, I found myself standing at the door to Maryam’s father’s house, about to meet her for the first time. There, in big, bold brass numbers was his address on **** Drive:

1111.

You know that apprehension that comes from meeting someone the first time, especially if they’re someone you’ve heard a lot about? I never feel awkward, as a rule, but I’m always on high alert to pick up the subtle metalanguage someone gives off upon being introduced. I was fully prepared to shake Maryam’s hand when I met her, but hold onto it and make sure she knew how happy I was to finally meet her and how many amazing things I’d heard about her. Her uncle opened the door, I said Allah’u’Abha, and something just clicked between him and I. We hugged three times. Right there on the threshold. It was like meeting an old friend. Strangest thing. Perhaps that broke the ice for all the Persians in the household (and trust me, it was all Persians, every person, and I felt completely at home to the point of not noticing it…I even felt Persian). Maryam was sitting with her back to me, but turned around facing the door. As I strode toward her she stood up and met me halfway. I didn’t even have time to reach my hand out when she wrapped me in a giant bear hug and said, “That’s from Sholeh.”

So. I thought that was it. Some really awesome coincidences and on the following Saturday night, one of the most intense dreams of my life. I even shared the 11:11 story with a couple of friends. Then I stopped thinking about it. Until I got stopped in my tracks today.

In an interesting overlap, I happened to be perusing Maryam’s Facebook profile on the day I was going to meet her. I noticed that one of the most recent comments on her wall was from someone named Setareh. You may remember me blogging about that name, which in Persian means “star.” I wrote her a quick note to say I liked her name, and that she was the first Setareh I’d ever heard of. We started a conversation. That was on January 11th.

Our topics ranged far and wide over the next few days, from astrophysics to animation, and all was well. I forget if I mentioned Setareh to Maryam the night I met her (I think I did) but at any rate it turns out she’s the sister of one of Maryam’s friends in Haifa. Once again, I didn’t give it another thought.

On January 17th, Setareh mentioned that she had some animations from her university studies posted online if I wanted to check them out. I didn’t immediately have the chance to look at them, but I made a mental note to go back.

As I write this, I was actually just counting the days between January 11th and today, when this new coincidence happened, just to make sure it was eleven. I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me, but at the exact moment I confirmed that indeed eleven days have passed, I looked at the clock.

It was 11:11pm.

Today, January 22nd, on the way into work I was listening to a mix CD I just got in the mail from my friend Timmy. It is a compilation of 23 songs unrelated to each other except that each contains hand claps as part of the rhythm. It’s a brilliant concept, and a great mix. On the record he included the Iron & Wine song “Boy with a Coin” from the new album “The Shepherd’s Dog.” I just received my copy of “The Shepherd’s Dog” in the mail this week after ordering it on Amazon. “Boy with a Coin” is a song recommended to me by Sholeh last year on 7/11/07 when the album first came out. I remember her saying she’d had it on repeat all day. This morning I pulled out Timmy’s liner notes to make sure of the song name and something caught my eye: he had also included a song called “Love and War” by Rilo Kiley.

The subtitle to that song is 11/11/46.

I got a message from Setareh this evening about the Messenger probe’s recent flyby of planet Mercury on January 14th. I hadn’t heard about it, so I was glad she took the time to write me. We discussed the awe and wonder of discovery over the course of the next few hours. (Incidentally, in doing my research for this entry, I ran across a discussion on the theme of the unity of science and religion that specifically mentions the planet Mercury). Then, since we’d opened the thread, I saw the link to her animations and decided to take a look.

I stopped cold.

I hadn’t seen the title when I clicked on it, so I won’t tell you until you watch it. But just try to imagine my shock as this one-minute clip rolled.

It’s called Eleven Minutes Past Eleven.

Before I sat down to write this, (and I still haven’t told her anything about these experiences) I asked Setareh if there was any special meaning to the film.

She writes:

Well 11:11…that would be telling wouldn’t it? Heh, seriously though, it was an idea that came from the fact that I often always spy the clock at 11:11…nearly every day which is so strange. So that alone inspired me to make an animation storyline. For that particular project I had to make a trailer for a potential film that had the theme of an ‘investigative quest’…so the quest this girl goes on takes place after she gets sucked into her cupboard and (leading on from the trailer) is taken to an alternate universe…and that is as far as I got! I am hoping to carry on and make it into a complete animation, but 3D can be tricky for me, so it may take some time!

She later added:

Sorry I forgot to add that in the animation, 11:11 is meant to signify a change, and something strange happening, almost spooky-like. So in the story ‘something’ enters the little girl’s dimension and causes her to get up and take a look…

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Something strange is happening. Something spooky. Perhaps there is a change on the horizon. Perhaps I should get up and take a look.

28 comments.

The promise of the Sun

Posted on November 25th, 2007 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, environment, epiphany, future, society, synthesis, technology.

It’s only appropeaux that the marriage of the largest and smallest would yield such promising fruit, the seeds of which, when scattered far and wide, have the potential to grow into a foundation-shaking shift in the way we interact with the planet. What am I talking about?

Nanosolar. Say it out loud. Let it roll off your tongue. Be among the first, for soon it will be on every tongue.

Leave it to a company in Silicon Valley to free solar energy from the expense and complexity of silicon. I’ve been preaching the gospel of the Sun for years, patiently awaiting the day that technology caught up with the economy. That day is here, my friends, at one third the price of coal. If we no longer have to fight over cheap, clean, abundant energy, imagine the real possibility for peace among humans.

This is cause for celebration.

6 comments.

Ojos Mexicanos

Posted on October 10th, 2007 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, epiphany, friends, fun, life, love, photography, space, synthesis, travel.

It’s 11:30. Let’s see if I can crank this out before another midnight rolls around.

I got off the plane in Miami yesterday, and by some miracle sailed through Customs. Straight to South Beach, where I had a panini and an iced cappuccino at the only dedicated Segafredo cafe in the world. Caught the parade on Lincoln Road, then sauntered over to the beach for my first ocean-water ablutions. No visit to SoBe is completed without a cruise down Ocean, and I must say Kashmir was feeling pretty hip with her sunroof open and Air on the stereo. Stopped by the giant sculpture of a hand on the way out of town, only to discover it was a Holocaust memorial. Spent a haunting hour reliving that nightmare in words, photos, music and art. The tour was free and I was undisturbed by any other visitors, thanks to the kind security guard. Took the scenic route out of town through Surfside, Bal Harbour, Haulover, Sunny Isles and Golden Beach, all the way to Hallandale before hopping on 95. An hour and a half later I was in Port St. Lucie, visiting Denise, catching up, eating protein pancakes and discussing the spirituality of extraterrestrials. We talked so late I ended up crashing in the guest room about two a.m. (after posting the nightly obligatory photos to flickr). Up by seven for a quick goodbye, on the road and into work by 9:30. Full day catching up on emails that arrived during my time in Mexico. Had the incredible honor and distinct pleasure of meeting Sunita Williams at the Expedition 14/15 presentation this afternoon. What a singularly amazing person! She is unbelievably kind, upbeat, fun-loving, intelligent, positive and happy. What a joy to meet someone so deserving of astronaut wings.

George, Suni, and Luke

Finished up a work, drove home to catch up on the scuba class I missed Monday. Managed to digest 90 pages of information in 45 minutes; enough to ace both tests today. Got out of class around 10:30pm, quick bean burrito from the border, and now this. I’m starting to get upset that I simply have no slots in the day in which to fit my gym routine. What a great problem to have, eh?

I relate all this to you in order to contrast the experience of the past five days in Mexico. People, I could write a small book describing what happens to me in that place; suffice it to say I took over one thousand photos. And you wonder why I’m six months behind on flickr. Though I will remind you that I’ve been consistently six months behind over the past year. So at least I’m keeping the pace, if not catching up.

But pay attention, chico! Mexico. Taxco was a dream. There’s no other way to describe it. Imagine waking up one morning and praying for the perfect day, then having your wildest dreams exceeded at every turn. Just wait til you see the photos. It was so idyllic I’m loath to even tell you the name of such a magical place, perched high atop cliffs in lush, pristine mountains. From our meal on the rooftop terrace overlooking the zocalo, to finding a nine-pointed star in the endless silver shops, to wearing one of my fifteen (!) new lucha libre masks through town and creating a scene…well, you just had to be there. Heck, if you want to go, I will take you there. In a heartbeat.

We fit a month into five days. I’m not even beginning to exaggerate. Floating languidly down the canals on a pole boat in Xochimilco. Dancing at one of the hippest clubs I’ve ever seen in Polanco. Racing through the empty, rain-soaked streets of one of the world’s largest cities at the wheel of Lulu’s Liberty at 4am. Quiet dinners and home with my Mexican family. Profound glances. Unspoken truths. Learning more Spanish than most people would in a semester.

Of the hundred epiphanies that were visited upon me during my stay, one stands out: on the last night, as I watched the lights twinkle on the mountains that ring this dream of a city, I realized:  I am a different person here.  Not once had I thought of my home in Florida, or my job, or my mortgage, or my bills, or my obligations. It dawned on me that my personality had changed; I was literally seeing with new eyes. Mexican eyes. What everyone had been telling me was true. “You’re at least half Mexican.” “No wonder you like Mexico, we’re all like you!” “You are my cousin, mi primo.” “You are my brother.” “Te quiero mucho.” “I love you.”

It’s a good thing I came back “home” through Miami. Otherwise I might not have survived the reverse culture shock.

8 comments.

Nouveaux yeux

Posted on September 26th, 2007 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, epiphany, friends, future, life, prayer, synthesis.

I'll be back

At the opthamologist today, my pupils were dilated as part of the exam. Even with the complimentary Terminator shades, the late afternoon sun seemed as though it had discovered a new fusile element and was churning out radiation at a hundred fold its normal pace. I was amazed to discover how reliant I am upon my vision, from navigating the road to choosing ripe bananas. It’s another world when you can’t see the ingredient list at the grocery store or can’t bear the sight of oncoming headlights.

Becoming a Baha’i is a similar experience, except that the Sun is always shining brighter, and is only limited by the growth of your vision, not its infinite and inexhaustible light. Just the other day I mailed one of my two prayer books to New Zealand, in support of a Baha’i art project that seeks to change the way we view spirituality in art. It was an exercise in detachment, as life itself seems to be, to part with something associated with fond memories. This was the book I received upon joining my Brevard County community, the book from which I memorized the Tablet of Ahmad.

But the paper and glue themselves matter little; just as what’s more important than the words of a prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered. I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that today, within a week of giving up something that seemed so precious, I should receive what I can only characterize as a divine confirmation. When I opened my mail this evening, I discovered a crimson tome with gilt letters reading, “Prières Bahá’íes.” It took but a moment to discern that this was a gift from my dear friend Atoosa on my first rebirthday, the one-year anniversary of my declaration.

How amazing to read a prayer you know by heart in another tongue. I cannot fathom the doors this will unlock, the bonds of illumination it will forge, to simultaneously explore my love for the French language and my adoration of Baha’u’llah.

Thank you, Atoosa joon.

Eye

11 comments.

Serendipity

Posted on September 17th, 2007 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, epiphany, food, friends, fun, future, history, life, love, music, prayer, synthesis, travel.

Fere, Farah and Sarah

If there’s one thing I’m learning about writing it’s that when inspiration strikes, you must strike back, while the iron is hot. Some of you are probably wondering after the whereabouts of that potentially controversial essay I planned to write on Thursday, the day Lazi got into a car accident that left her and her friend upside down, hanging from their seatbelts. Don’t worry, she’s ok. But you see how easy it is to get distracted? Now it’s three a.m. after a life-changing weekend and my head is full of five pages that I can’t afford to sacrifice sleep to commit to words. God forgive me, but I feel I must resort to the dreaded bullet list. Behold: as many highlights from the weekend as I can remember. Rest assured there are hundreds more my poor brain is already forgetting as the cup overfloweth.

• Working extra hours in advance to leave work early Friday for Savannah to attend Louis and Shezel’s wedding
• Picking up Sarofsky and Justin in JAX
• Seeing happiness in the eyes of the four parents of the bride and groom
• Meeting Louis’s and his father Michael’s brothers
• Meeting Cara and Rob from Orlando and learning about life at Guantanamo and the difference between an interior decorator and an interior designer
• Bonding with Justin
• Bachelor party laser tag
• Gourmet brekkie at the posh hotel downtown, included with the room
• Getting half price on said posh hotel
• Meeting Brittany, the vibrant soul with light in her eyes, a lilt in her voice, spring in her step, and heart in her service, a senior in interior design and our cashier at the sandwich shop
• Hearing the words “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” sung by a local artist at an outdoor cafe the moment we rounded the corner to the sandwich shop
• Making it to the wedding in advance to help set up
• Enjoying the honor of reading 1 Corinthians chapter 13 during the ceremony from the microphone between the bride and groom, their silhouettes framing the faces of an audience brimming with love and support for the couple
• Reuniting with members of my local Brevard County family on the lawn
• Meeting Brenda and Nancy, kindred spirits, by the hors d’oeuvres as the sun went down on a beautiful day
• Sharing tough but enlightening conversations with Ladan and Ramzi and family
• Witnessing the impossibly beautiful blending of the cultures of two different families manifest itself on the dance floor
• Busting several moves on said dance floor before the rug-cutting was cut short
• Listening to Darrell dedicate his poem to his little brother
• Eating wedding cake in honor of Mom (it’s her favorite dessert)
• Throwing Persian “rice” at Louis and Shezel on their way to the limo
• Finishing off the last of the wedding cake
• The Saturday night misadventures of $20 covers at bowling alleys, full car sing-alongs, and visiting the beach at Tybee Island for the first time at 2am, spending hours splashing in the ocean, looking at the stars and talking about the universe
• Waking up late Sunday to bid farewell to so many wonderful new friends (including the third interior designer!) like Navid, Adeeb (my new cousin), Shawn, Mona, Nissa, Cheryl, Sarah, Jalil and Sina
• Eating leftover wedding cake before lunch
• Enjoying lunch on the sidewalk in downtown Savannah with Sarofsky, Farah, Fere and Justin
• Justin’s eagle eye spotting Brittany walking straight toward us from across the street
• Marvelling at the serendipity of meeting a complete stranger twice in two days in a major city, embracing the second time and realizing you are old friends
• Hitting the road like Juan Valdez in order to make it to St. Augustine by 7pm for the once-a-year 1905 Day at my favorite restaurant in Florida: The Columbia
• Arriving at 6:35
• Being informed that no more reservations are being taken
• Sweet-talking the hostess and getting a table for 8:45
• Stepping outside to inform the group that we need to wait two hours and can enjoy the city, the second wonderful historic Southern town to introduce Justin to in the span of two days
• Being caught by the manager just before we set out and being taken to a table right away
• Enjoying the best gourmet Spanish food this side of Spain and paying 1905 prices (Cokes were ten cents, soups fifty cents, salad a dollar, entrees $2.05)
• Paying the tab without blinking and tipping the waiter double the bill
• Enjoying the ride home with my sisters Farah and Fere accompanied by good music
• Thinking the night was over only to be introduced to five religious refugees from Iran, family of local Baha’is who arrived in the United States 10 days ago
• Welcoming them to our community, learning about their lives and their journey, sharing stories and gaining amazing insights about prayer and destiny
• Being blessed with tangible evidence of the undeniable unity of all humans in the form of five brilliant souls
• Mentioning the five sisters and noticing the five-pointed star on Mehrvash’s necklace
• Listening to Siroos translate from Persian to English, and noticing that Kazim used the word “rouhani” several times in Persian
• From what I can tell, rouhani means “spiritual”
• Rouhani is Shezel’s maiden name, bestowed upon her family in the early history of the Baha’i Faith
• Kazim had never heard of the Rouhanis until tonight
• Thanking God for the limitless divine outpourings accrued over what must be recorded as three of the most intense days of my life, three days which are a direct result of the spiritual journeys taken last weekend in Texas
• Witnessing firsthand the soul-stirring, foundation-shaking, happiness-inducing, resolve-solidifying, purpose-endowing power of the Tablet of Ahmad, the Fire Tablet, and the Tablet of Visitation of Abdu’l-Baha

9 comments.

Beloved

Posted on September 3rd, 2007 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, epiphany, future, life, love, poetry, travel.

praise each dusty step
along this vast expanse
from scalloped ridge
to gnarled branch
from scorpions to ants

time is drawing nigh
a meeting soon at hand
our faces lit
in reunion
eternal golden strands

bitter makes the sweet
distance draws us near
without this time
apart from you
love couldn’t be so dear

now the city lights
dance happily below
down this mountain
through the vale
our kindled hearts aglow

4 comments.

Withhold not thyself therefrom

Posted on August 18th, 2007 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, epiphany, friends, future, life, love, space, synthesis.

There is undeniable, infinite power in prayer.

Last Monday I intoned the words of one of the most potent prayers ever revealed to humankind at the spiritual focal point of the Holiest House of Worship on planet Earth, the Mother Temple of the West.  There were no immediately apparent effects beyond the tranquility of my spirit and that of my companions.  Then, within an hour, completely at random, I was reunited with a man at a restaurant miles away.  I had first met this man, and last seen him, nearly a year prior:  in that same room where I uttered prayers then and now.  Last year he told the story of that room while we sat in it.  I had always been inexplicably drawn to it; I had gone there last year to say prayers of spiritual growth and nearness to God.  It was then that, directly after his story, our prayers, and spontaneous song, I set aside my ego and declared my faith in and servitude toward Baha’u’llah.

At the restaurant he did not remember me.  But he did tell me that he and his wife were expecting.  After I congratulated them, he mentioned that they were going on vacation before the baby was born.  Just before I left the restaurant for O’Hare to return home to Orlando, I asked where they were going.  He said they were leaving in two days.  For Orlando.

That Saturday I met the man, his wife, their unborn child, and their friend from Winter Park at the Kennedy Space Center to accompany them on a tour.  Throughout the day, as I explained to them the wonders of space exploration that surrounded us, I would suddenly become aware that a stranger was standing near us, listening in, patiently waiting to ask a question.  These people seemed to come from nowhere, to appear out of thin air.  They had somewhat puzzled expressions on their faces.  One could tell they weren’t quite sure what had brought them there, but they knew they had a question to ask.  Within the span of five to fifteen minutes we would share conversation that was far beyond that of strangers, and sometimes that of well-acquainted friends.  Then they would gather their family and move on.

At the end of the day, and before I proceeded to a local interfaith devotional on the topic of peace, I parted ways with the man, his wife, their child and their friend.  The man looked at my hands quietly and told me he had much to tell me.  He said it would have to wait until the next time we met.  We did not make plans.  I have no idea when I shall see him again.  But I am anxious to hear what he has to say.

Now it is seven days since that Saturday.  In the past week, one of my dearest friends informed me that she has decided to become a Baha’i.  I have known this person for two months.  I have never met her.  She has never met a Baha’i in person.  And yet I am convinced that she will be one of my closest friends in this life.  From the moment we met we have interacted as if we have been friends for decades.  I dare say we are as family.

In the past week I have reconnected with another of my dearest friends in a way that I have been dreaming possible, working toward, and praying feverishly about for nearly a year.  Steps have been taken, apologies made by us both, new paths chosen.  It has been an answer to months of daily prayer.  I am overjoyed; a shackle has fallen from my ankle.  A massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

In the past week I have experienced an ironing-out of the wrinkles in my everyday life.  My vision is clearer.  My motivation has returned.  I have tapped a vein.  Chores come easier; opportunities present themselves in my career; my eyes are on the horizon.

I am not filled with resolve; I am become resolve.  I commit this to words; I entrust it to you.  I know what I must do.  In light of these revelations, the following may seem trivial, but I shall nonetheless put it down:  in the near term, I seek to explore the piloting of airplanes, helicopters, and racing vehicles.  I will explore every avenue of opportunity in my career.  I will find ways to continue to learn more languages.  I will further refine my diet and work toward greater physical fitness.  I will continue with the pursuits that bring me joy.

In the long term, and much more appropriate to this trajectory:  I will seek to consort with every human that crosses my path in the purest possible spirit of humility, peace, kindness, understanding and equanimity.  I will endeavour to become the embodiment, to the fullest of my limited abilities, of love toward my fellow human.

To those who seek, I shall share the secret of the Source of my happiness.

Peace be upon you, my fellow human beings.

14 comments.

Alarm call

Posted on August 1st, 2007 by george.
Categories: death, enlightenment, epiphany, future, history, life, society, space, synthesis.

Ok stop. Get up, go look in a mirror, fix your own face in your mind, and then come back to this.

I mean it, get up. Go!

Are you back? Good. Got it in your mind? Your identity? That face that you associate with your self? Now think: what did you see? Is that you? No. That’s just the face that’s attached to the body that carries you around, when you let it. What about when you close your eyes? Or when you daydream? Or when you sleep? Where are you? Who are you? What are you? If you’re not your body, then what? A consciousness? An awareness? You are so much more than just your brain, just your synapses firing. They may do the job, but something transcends them. They may be the engine, but you are the driver. Now. As the caterpillar says. WHO ARE YOU?

You’re a human, right?

Well, what is that? It’s certainly much more than a simple primate. You’re not just a hairless monkey running around the savannah. You are sentience. You are awareness. You are consciousness. You have the ability to look in the mirror and see something. You have the unique gift to be able to look up to the heavens, recognize and appreciate the universe, something infintely larger than and beyond you. But you’re even more than that. This may sound presumptuous, but perhaps your definition of yourself is too small.

What do you propose we do when we first contact another civilization? Start all over again with this us vs. them crap? I propose something greater. Let’s take to heart the lesson that Pluto has taught us. Our definitions are like rails upon which our trains of thought run. We often lay them before we’ve truly explored the wilderness to which they lead. We got ourselves into trouble with our quaint little ideas about what a planet is. We take a cursory look around, take note of what we see, then clap the dust off our hands and say, “Welp. That must be it. Nine planets.” Then along comes Planet X. And large asteroids. And Kuiper Belt objects. And extrasolar planets. And suddenly we’re confronted with a conundrum. “Um, exactly what is a planet?”

We could have seen it coming. I mean, all it takes is a little hindsight to focus your foresight. History repeats itself.  And these are just rocks. Imagine how serious it’s going to be when we meet Quo, the first Zorplag from planet Kozmotrad. You think people got upset over Pluto? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

So here it is, people. Here’s your chance. Decide, right here and now, what it means to be human. And don’t make your definition too narrow. I don’t want you to leave out an entire civilization just because you overlooked exoskeletons. In fact, don’t make the definition too concrete. Because we are definitely going to be surprised. So put a little leeway in there. And be ready, like any good scientist, to revise your theories.

Stumped? Ok, I’ll start. I propose that we decide that the word “human” encompasses more than primate-based sentience on planet Earth. It’s going to be so much easier to interact with other lifeforms if we include them in our paradigm, rather than marginalize them before we even meet them. You only have to look back upon our own history to see all the evil perpetrated against your brothers and sisters because someone decided they were “less than human.”

So do it now. Here, I’ll help you: I declare that to be human simply means you enjoy self-awareness. There, see? Easy peasy. Remember Isaac Asimov (or for those of you with shorter memories, Robin Williams)? Bicentennial Man? Congratulations. You have just welcomed AI into the family. Now don’t be scared. He’s not Frankenstein’s monster. There is a fundamental order to the universe. Anyone who acts in a purely selfish manner can only hope to bring ruin upon them and those around them. Say robots rise up against us, God forbid. And we’re all exterminated. Fine. At least we birthed a higher consciousness. But trust me, that’s not going to happen. I mean, we still respect animals, right? RIGHT?

But back to the aliens. Or, ahem, excuse me: humans. Like us. Just from a different place. And who look really different, if they “look” at all. Do you think for one moment that they will reach a level of civilization that allows us to share information without working together? How can you possibly worry that they will only come here to destroy us? What motive would they have? Oh, wait. You mean…you’re thinking about the Europeans who settled the Americas? Huh. Well, perhaps you have a point.

But I’m optimistic. A civilization that is too violent or war-hungry (in other words, a civilization that is self-destructive, a civilization that is too blind to see that killing a single one of its cells is detrimental to the entire body) won’t last long enough to make first contact. They won’t be around to enjoy that boundless and limitless joy of knowing that ZOMG we are not alone! The only reason anyone gets anywhere is because of all the others who helped them along. I’m sorry, but all those things that you enjoy, including access to the internet that allows you to read this? You didn’t and can’t and don’t own it. You didn’t pay for it. I don’t care if you’re the head of the household like me and BY GOD you pay your bills! That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about if you were the only person on this planet there would be no internet. Hell, there would be no language. In fact, you’d be dead. That’s right, you wouldn’t have survived more than about three days outside whatever fictional or cybernetic or hypothetical womb from which you issued forth.

Here’s something you MUST recognize about the fundamental nature of the universe: the only method for advancement is cooperation. That applies on a cellular level, and it applies on every level up to, including and beyond the Galactic Federation. You are only as educated as the lessons learned by every teacher and student and scientist who went before you. EVERYTHING that you enjoy, everything that sustains your life, everything that allows you to look into that mirror: you owe it to someone else. You did not earn it. I don’t care if you’ve worked hard, but good for you if you have. I want you to understand: you have been given a priceless gift to be breathing right now. You are the sum of the hopes and dreams of every struggling soul who has died and left their legacy to you.

Go. Look in that mirror again, I’ll wait.

What did you see this time? Did you see the innumerable eyes of every human throughout all time looking back at you? Did you see with the eyes of Adam? Can you see with the eyes of Quo? Because that’s who you’re responsible to. Those humans of the past, those humans of the future? That’s who you are. THAT’S YOU. And they’re all counting on you to do your part. It may seem small, but everything you do ripples across the fabric of spacetime to the very ends of the universe.

Now. What are you going to do today? How are you going to apply your unique skills and talents to do the best thing you could possibly do? What is that thing, you ask? It’s called advancing civilization. And how do you do it? By helping others. It’s simple, really. Even a Zorplag can understand it.

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