Even if I didn’t believe in God, I’d still believe in creation.
One December night when I was seven, my parents walked me across a parking lot. It was cold, see-your-breath cold, and as I exhaled, I liked to pretend that I was a dragon, watching my smoke rise in front of me.
That’s when I noticed the sky.
I was seven, so of course I had noticed the sky before and knew about outer space and how boys went to Jupiter to get more stupider, and I had heard about gravity and astronauts who defied it. But that night I realized how big it all was and how very small I was in comparison, and I was suddenly very afraid that this thing called gravity was going to break and let me go.
“It’s just that because the universe is expanding, that means it goes on forever, and forever makes now seem pointless,” I told Luke one day.
“We don’t know that it goes on forever,” he said.
“Then what does it expand into?”
Last January, I drove across the state for a four-hour long interview at a law firm.
The last eighteen months out of college had been shovelfuls of potato salad and dead-end prospects and “this isn’t working anymore,” and I had just interviewed to work as close to full-time as I legally could at a coffee franchise.
As the attorneys filed in and out of the conference room to interrogate me, I was kept company by Atlas holding up a hollow globe at the end of their ring-stained table, and I was struck by how carrying nothing looks as though it feels the same as carrying everything.
Summa Cum Laude went through my Jackson-Pollock of a liberal arts undergrad transcript line by line.
“You took astronomy?” he asked. “Did you enjoy it?”
I could tell by the way he was saying, “Are you sure you’d be happy here?” over and over and over again that I had failed my logic tests from earlier and wasn’t going to get the job. So, I was honest: “No. Physics gives me a headache, and I’m afraid of the sky.”
I drove home. Months passed. I wiped coffee grounds from countertops. Months turned into a year, and so much has changed in a year, but sometimes I have to ask: What is a lifetime, really, but another day and another cup of coffee? What is creation, but a universe expanding into nothing?
Nothing, for being nothing, has a Wikipedia page:
Nothing is a pronoun denoting the absence of anything. Nothing is a pronoun associated with nothingness. In nontechnical use, nothing denotes things lacking importance, interest, value, relevance, or significance.
Maybe God didn’t create the world with a flip of the switch. Maybe there was a big bang and a slow evolution of a particle of dust. No matter the method of creation, the matter of the story is the same: creatio ex nihilo.
There was nothing, and then there was.
“Life isn’t what you have; it’s what you make,” Luke said. I guess he, if anyone, would understand. When he took the train home from two years spent working on mountain trails and flipping burgers at ski resorts, he had nothing. No money for food. No money for a pack of cigarettes. Nothing but the copy of Life of Pi someone had left behind, which he read, and then left for the next wanderer finding his way home.
Time goes on, and life is what we have. Pretend dragon smoke against a night sky. Ring-stained conference tables. Hollow globes. Used espresso grounds. No money for food. Doubt in the better story. Across the ocean: holes in the ground from exploded homes. Here: closed doors. Silent hospital rooms and sorrow when someone leaves without saying goodbye.
But the universe doesn’t go on forever. It is expanding into nothing. It is in the perpetual state of taking insignificance, irrelevance, nothingness and giving it meaning.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.