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CHAPTER 1: A CONNECTION TO A BUMBLEBEE
“Everything is connected” is a common philosophical statement. It is very similar to other philosophical thoughts like “God is everywhere”. For most, these kinds of thoughts are the conclusions reached, the results of, deep thinking. These thoughts, if true, are indeed profound.
We seek to prove these assertions are true or false. How? By speculating on the mechanisms that support such a state of affairs. We ask, “If everything is connected, how is everything connected?”.
We then search for phenomenon occurring in our universe that indicate these connection mechanisms actually exist.
How would you go about proving everything is connected? I can, and will, tell you how I have proceeded. I will also discuss my motivations. You, on the other hand, have a different background, different experiences, different interests, a different worldview. I cannot say that I am better able to prove everything is connected than you. I may, however, be able to spotlight some thoughts you have not considered.
I believe it is important to ask strange questions – to think outside the box. Like, for example, what if there is no box? Our time is important in our universe, but we will try to show there may be other times, and even “places” with no time. We will try to show that without time, there can be no box.
If you tell a young child to wash his hands, he might easily respond, “Why?”. An old school dad might respond, “Because I told you to.”. A modern parent might embark on a series of explanations involving food contamination, germs, and getting sick. After numerous “why”s, the discussion ends with “Just wash your hands” and “Because I told you to”.
I do not want to pursue deeper and deeper philosophical and scientific thoughts only to arrive at a point where we are both bored and frustrated and I tell you to believe me “Because I told you to”.
Since I already sense boredom and frustration in one of us, let us delay details of how I can accomplish my goals and, instead turn to a story based loosely on my childhood. This story is one of the billion everythings that are connected. It is connected to the present and future me. And, if I am right, it is connected to everything else.
. . . .
The boy lived in a black and white world – a world of black and white TVs, of black and white people, of black and white rules.
There was something soothing about the buzz of the power mower as he maneuvered it around the half acre side yard. It helped him forget his righteous indignation. That morning the librarian had told him he could not get a book from the adult section – she had said “Master Mike, You can't go in there”. The buzz of the mower also drowned out a much more ominous buzz.
He wasn't a “Master”, he was a “Mr.”, just as good and just as smart as any adult! Why couldn't he get into the adult section? - he just wanted to read about how to replace Rick. Of course, Rick could not be replaced.
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The boy had learned from the TV that he lived in the Mid-South. The rest of the world considered it the deep South. He lived on a farm, sandwiched between a two-lane rural road on the north and a railroad on the south.
The farm had probably been cut from a plantation many years before – but to the boy, the seventeen acre farm was a plantation. This plantation included his home, a nearby chicken coop, and, a little further away, a third structure.
The boy's home was a large house, although you should probably remember that to young boys, all houses are large. It could have used some new paint. The front porch boasted two white columns. Gothic columns they were not. Each was made of four, eight foot long, two by fours, nailed together to form square columns. The porch floor was a concrete slab, painted gray. Also present was a chair and a five foot porch swing. The boy had spent many hours in the spring, summer, and fall in that swing, reading.
In the first grade, the boy had learned to read, if it could be call it that. His first book, “Fun with Dick and Jane” was not very satisfying. He liked dogs, for example, and the book had a dog named “Spot”. The picture showed that Spot did, indeed , have a spot. But when he searched for details, the words only demanded that he “See Spot Run”. Reading seemed pointless.
That same year, for his birthday, the boy received a present he would never forget. That present was not memorable because it was unique - he received many presents, all but one carefully wrapped in white paper, each with a different colored bow. His birthday “party” took place on a cold, sunny February morning. Important occasions were family affairs. His mother and both grandmothers were there. The men were at work.
The festivities began with cake, chocolate. The boy loved chocolate. No words were on the cake, just six flaming candles. A wish, kept secret, had to be made and the candles blown out. It was suggested that the cake be sliced and milk be brought in – but the boy would have none of that – it was on to the presents.
The presents were many and varied. Some were inexpensive, but were full of thought and love. Most were expensive, much more than the family could afford. But six year old boys were not aware of nor should they be burdened by thoughts of finance.
As the boy ripped the paper from each box, his mother, with occasional support from one or the other grandmother, described the wonderfulness of each present and tried to transfer her excitement to the boy. When, finally, the boy tore into the last present, he didn't notice that his mother had mysteriously left the room. He did notice, just before opening the present, that the box was square and not really a box.
For a moment, as the paper departed, the boy was disappointed to see a thick book appear. Then his mother returned, carrying a small brown and white dog, a puppy with a hooked nose. She simply said “This is Rick”.
For the rest of the boy's birthday and for several days thereafter, spare time was devoted to getting use to Rick. His mother did not explain why she had named the dog Rick (sometimes Ricky) and no one thought to ask. Having a dog in the house, however, meant that the boy had many questions. What should the puppy eat? His mother's answer was that new gravy train dry dog food where you just add warm water to get a delicious stew (at least the boy thought that the puppy found it delicious). Next question: why did Rick want to stand in his stew and then track it all over the house? There was no answer, but a partial solution was newspapers on the floor and often confining Rick to a large cardboard box. This solution also helped when the boy noticed that Rick was not housebroken. I could go on, but it was not all bad. Rick was cute, affectionate, and loved to play. The boy could not stay mad at Rick, but the first few days were chaos. Then, one evening while Rick was asleep, the boy's mother sat down. She was holding the last present the boy had opened, the forgotten book.
The book, his mother told him, was “Lad: A Dog”, by Albert Terhune. That night, she read the first of the twelve stories in the book, sitting beside the boy, moving her finger under each word as she spoke. The story was so much more than “See Spot run”. For the first time, reading was not just a chore to be endured at school.
The boy's mother promised to read him the next story the very next night. The boy was taking arithmetic at school. He could imagine one story a night – twelve nights to read the book. It turned out that the reading was much more sporadic. Rick would not always be sleeping during reading time and Rick was a puppy that demanded attention. His mother was also very busy. She had always had many chores – for example, it was only with a lot of practice that she had become the best cook in the whole world. The boy's mother also now had to take care of Rick. Occasionally, she would tell the boy that he was responsible for Rick, after all, Rick was his dog. This seemed fair and the boy readily agreed – yet somehow these dog chores remained with his mother.
It was more than a week later when his mother finally sat beside the boy and began reading the second story. As his mother read, the boy was very interested in the adventures of the dog. Lad's mistress had fallen into a cold lake and now had pneumonia. What would happen? But the boy was also interested in the words as they flowed over his mother's finger as she read. He knew some of the small words from school. He recognized an occasional large word from the first story. He was thrilled that he sometimes knew what his mother was going to say before she spoke.
The next day the boy carried the book outside and climbed into the porch swing. He opened the book to the first page, began reading, and became a nag. He knew most of the words, but when he found one he didn't know, he would climb down from the swing and go find his mother. Pointing to the word, he would say “Mommy, what did you say this word was?”. The boy did not forget that word again. The second story was easy to read – his mother had just read it to him.
The boy looked at the third story. He recognized some of the words, but most were mysteries. Nagging wouldn't work. His mother was patient, but not that patient. The boy would have to be patient. The boy did not like to be patient.
The boy could not spend his entire life on the porch swing reading. Sometimes the cold of winter (even the South gets cold in winter) would force him indoors. Or he would have to go to school and read about that stupid Dick and Jane. There might be “a call of nature”. Or he had to sleep or eat.
When the boy entered his home, he had choices. He could go straight, past the first bedroom and continue down the hall past the bathroom and the second bedroom. Then, of course, he could go out the door into the backyard. The first bedroom was his – with his bed, a bookcase, and a small closet. There wasn't room for most of his toys – they were stored upstairs in the attic. There was a pull down stairs in the hall.
The house boasted an indoor bathroom. The boy would not have known there was any other possibility than indoor plumbing except he had visited relatives in Kentucky who were not so lucky.
The second bedroom was his parents, or rather, his mother's and his step-father's. The boy did not like his step-father.
When the boy entered the house, he could bear to the left and access the other half of his home. His parents liked to call this the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. A better name would have been living room dining room kitchen.
The living room contained a comfortable beige reclining chair and a large white sofa with big pillows. There was a single picture in an oval frame on the wall, a picture of a haloed Jesus. A bookcase that reached almost to the ceiling stood between the living room and dining room.
The dining room held one of the more expensive pieces of furniture in the house, a wooden dining room table with eight matching chairs. No one noticed as they were eating the clear view of the back of the bookcase.
The most expensive furniture item, a mahogany china cabinet holding one of the boy's mother's prize possessions - “the good china”, separated the dining room from the kitchen.
Whenever he thought of the kitchen, the boy could not think of or describe the sink or the stove or the ice box or anything else – he just thought that his mother was the best cook in the whole world. Even vegetables, straight from the garden, were unbelievably delicious. Corn on the cob, covered with melting butter, was his favorite. Of course, it was really melting margarine, not butter, but the boy didn't know the difference.
A year later Rick was almost as long as the boy was tall. The boy learned, from his mother, of course, that collies were the second fastest breed, being only a little slower than greyhounds. Rick was a collie with a thick brown and white coat – until one hot and muggy July day. Then his mother said “I feel so sorry for that dog” and sheared most of his hair. Rick looked like a muscular greyhound.
. . . .
The boy was mowing near the chicken coop. The ground was dry and lumpy. An old fence had once run through the area and he was near a rotted fence post. The boy, though still pouting, knew to watch for strands of rusted bob wire. Hitting bob wire with a power mower could be disastrous. To his right was part of the farm's extensive garden, a corn field with thousands of stalks, the leaves of each were long, greenish brown blades that challenged the sky. These were indeed blades as they could easily cut naked skin.
The chicken coop was about one third the size of the house, better painted, more substantial. Since his parents had bought the farm, a time the boy could barely remember, the chicken coop had not known a chicken. It had a good roof – its sides were, mostly, wooden planks nailed to vertical and horizontal two by fours. The upper half of one wall was, appropriately, metal chicken wire. When the boy had been inside one winter day, he noticed that this wire mesh was hexagon shaped, just like honey bee comb. The coop was used for storage. Large bags of fertilizer and seeds were neatly stacked, for reasons of convenience and safety, near the door. In the summer, the chicken coop was dangerous.
The problem was those horizontal two by fours. Wasps loved to build their paper nests underneath these boards and strongly resented anyone, wittingly or unwittingly, approaching.
. . . .
Rick was a pure bred collie even though he had that strange hooked nose. To prove it, his mother showed the boy Rick's papers, a certificate from the American Kennel Club. Pointing, the boy asked “What's that word?”. The answer was “Dam”, a female dog. Rick's mother was Bonnie of Amberhill Farms.
Rick loved to run and the boy could not keep up. Rick would run to the creek that split the farm – a creek that was a dry ditch in the summer, three times as deep as the boy was tall, and a muddy torrent in the winter. Rick would run to the railroad tracks and across – until the boy called him back. Rick would run to the chicken coop and beyond to the sharecropper's house and bark at the old negro lady who lived there.
The boy had never been in the sharecropper's house. It, and the colored lady and her husband, had come with the farm. The boy barely remembered the husband – he had died long ago. The boy had never paid much attention to the little house. If he had, it was obviously not as nice as his home or even the chicken coop.
Sharecroppers are people who rent land and a house to raise crops. They then give some of the crops to the owner as rent. That is what the boy's mother would have told him if he had asked.
The little old lady had a nice garden. Her home was what was left a generation after the last crop destined to be shared was harvested.
Christmas was the biggest and best holiday of the year. It made his birthday seem like nothing. To a young boy, time always moved slowly, but as Christmas approached, the boy feared that time might actually stop.
One September day, the boy stretched a cotton clothesline across his room and attached one hundred clothespins, one for each day until Christmas. Every morning he would remove one clothespin and reassure himself that someday Christmas would arrive. On Christmas morning, he removed the last clothespin and ran into the Living Room, to the Christmas Tree and the presents.
. . . .
During a different season and several clotheslines later, the boy pushed his mower through a cloud of dust near the chicken coop. The sweat that pored down his face turned muddy. The mower tore into a tuft of heavy, brown grass that had died from lack of water, its clump of roots half out of the ground.
That Spring, a single bumblebee had built her nest under this clump. This day, under this clump, she lived in what she considered her home. She shared her home with many daughters.
That Spring Rick ran into the rural road in front of the boy's home and died.
. . . .
The boy at school was one person, at home another. At school, his main desire was to be quiet, be unnoticed, to never be called on. Yet if he was, he was polite and usually knew the answer. He was the kid that, once gone, his teachers would not long remember.
At home, he didn't mind screaming and crying to express his righteous indignation. He was indignant a lot. His mother always understood, always tried to make it better. After all, the boy was right, the world wrong. Only rarely was a different view expressed. His step-father, behind a newspaper and when his mother could not hear, would mutter quietly “spoiled brat”.
Yet, when Rick died the boy did not cry. He only said quietly “I told him not to go in the road”. You would have thought the boy was stoic or uncaring. Maybe he thought that Rick's death was too important for tears. The boy had always been lonely. The boy did not know that he had been lonely until that day. The boy knew his view of the world had changed. He would never again be as happy as he had been.
. . . .
The second the bumblebees swarmed up, the boy knew he was in trouble. Abandoning the mower, he dashed behind a large, nearby bush, getting as far as possible into the limbs and leaves. Peeping out, he thought he was safe – the bees were settling down, returning to their damaged home. Soon they were all gone – except for one bee.
This bee was flying what could only be called a search pattern - going from one end of the yard to the other, looking over and behind every bush – until she came to the boy's bush.
The boy tried to run, but immediately felt the bee tangled in his hair and then the sharp pain. The boy ran crying to his house. The bee did not follow.
. . . .
His mother held his head in her lap and gently applied wet baking soda to the sting “to draw out the poison”. As the pain receded, the boy's first thought was “that sure was one smart bumblebee”, but his first words were “I wish Rick had been as smart as that bee, he would have known to stay out of the road”.
The boy returned to play and to grow older. He often thought sadly of Rick, but he was also haunted by another thought: Maybe all of God's creatures are smart!
As time passed, as it always does, the boy thought less and less often of Rick and the bumblebee. His mind turned to practical matters.
. . . .
If “Everything is connected”, this story is tied to and affects the present and future me. It also affects you. If everything is connected, even a molecule that was once in a left leg of the long dead bumblebee is connected to every atom in the universe.
I have spoken of both a billion connections and a billion thoughts. I want to note that, to us, a billion miles is a very long distance, while one-billionth of a mile is a very small distance. The word “billion” is, however, convenient, not accurate.
A billion is one of the largest numbers we can get our minds around. We know that a billion people is a significant portion of the total population of the earth, a large, but imaginable, number.
There are larger numbers – a quintillion is one billion times one billion. Still not enough. We may want to use gazillion instead of billion. A gazillion is a fictitious, arbitrarily large, number.
It seems to me that we must conclude that everything is not connected or else we must ask what mechanism can connect a gazillion things.
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