“Let me tell you I am better acquainted with you for a long absence, as men are with themselves for a long affliction: absence does but hold off a friend to make one see him truer.” -Ovid

The too-long pause in the comedy routine. The darkened silhouette against the deepening magenta, violet and goldenrod hues of a perfect summer sunset. The uncomfortable midnight groping for a light-switch that has moved somewhere it ought not be. The infinite horizon punctuating the perfectly abrasive dampness of sand between toes at the beach.

Photo By Annie Leibowitz
The white milk and bathtub frame the face of actress and comidienne Whoopi Goldberg.

The ending.

The loss.

The death.

Negative Space – the thing that does not exist so that other things may be viewed more clearly by the absence.

This was a concept drilled relentlessly into my psyche during the time in my life when I thought I would be the travelling-nomadic-photographer type right out of college. And then I saw something missing in my studies. So, naturally, I changed my major to something completely unrelated. When my studies did not quench the thirst in my soul, I dropped out and followed my heart across the country.

My grandfather is dying. From a brain tumor. He’s 90 years old, and has lived a long life surrounded by people who love him. His wife, my grandmother, passed about two years ago. He’s expressed the desire to remarry, and at almost a century old, his still-red hair and quick wit could render defenseless the guard of any lady he set his sights on-he’s been quite the eye-candy amongst with the widows at his church. Every time I’ve called back home, I hear how popular he is with the nurses watching over his care, how charming he is still with one eye removed and a sickly pallor brought on by the radiation treatment. But truthfully, I think he misses his wife, my grandmother, and the presence of a loving, life-long partner, the one that has pledged to be for him. Perfectly healthy and robust before, the youngest of 13 children who all lived into their 90s, it seems the void left in the wake of her departure has caught up to him.

I am sad to know he will not be around to see me get married, have kids or life milestones, but the thought of his leaving has heightened awareness of all that he has taught and given me in our time together. I can see these things more clearly through the lens of loss, of absence. Of the negative space framing them.

Most people have been exposed to the idea of negative space through the image that bears either the mirror image of two faces in profile or a vase, depending on how you look at it. (Pictured left.) Truly, this is a concept not limited to the fields of art or design. But that is not to say that the negative space in a person’s life is only defined by loss, but rather the waiting, the yearning, the aching, the enjoying, the celebrating, the next step and the sigh at the end of the day.

The space under the Christmas tree. The time spent waiting for a birthday or vacation. The shameless bribery of ice cream in exchange for giving “Mommy 15 minutes of peace and quiet for a bubble bath.”

But instead of allowing those spaces to just be, we fill those voids with stuffandjunkandthings to the brim, so that when something comes along worth having, we have no space for it and have no choice but to let it pass us by.

Or maybe it’s what we don’t say that matters. Maybe it’s the words of love left unsaid that frame the problems between two people. Maybe its the unspoken words of anger that make the a disappointment more obvious. Maybe it’s the time apart that punctuates the strength of a relationship between two people.

Consider the size of the atom. Start by thinking on the scale of really small things. Start with Kate Moss. Just kidding. Let’s start with a grain of rice (Basmati, for those of you who are curious). A grain of Basmati rice measures about 7 millimeters, or  7×10^-3 meters. The diameter or distance across for a red blood cell is about 7 micrometers, or 7×10^-6 meters, which is a thousandth the size of the grain of rice. And then there’s the atom. The diameter across, measured by where the electrons orbit the nucleus, is approximately 10^-9 meters, or on the order of a thousandth the size of that red blood cell. However, the inside of that atom is between 10^-13 and 10^-15 meters in diameter. That’s up to a thousand trillion times smaller than the grain of rice. The

Basic Diagram of an atom

space between the electrons and the nucleus? Its just that, space. Every tiny particle that makes us up is mostly nothing.*

So when you take this into account, most of the “stuff” on the planet and in the known universe is mostly nothing as well. Yet, our lives, our very existence would be intimately different if this were not the case.

Negative space.

This is not the time to have an existential meltdown, or a crisis of self worth if you were secure in your identity as a person of “substance.”

This is the time to think of the solider leaving a lover or family behind while going off to war. This is the time to think about the parent dropping off their child for their first day of kindergarten–or first year of college for that matter. This is the time to think about how the curves of a lover’s lips would be less beautiful if there were no space to part them. What happens on the other side that absence or cannot be defined without the space in-between.

Photo By Richard Avedon

*No comments from the peanut gallery concerning subatomic particles, forces, energy and the like. The scientific reference, is of course, grossly simplified for illustrative purposes.

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“It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.” – Arthur C. Clarke (1917 – )

I get really tired of the disrespectful debate between fundamentalist religious groups and scientists, and end up being entirely dimayed by people who claim to share my faith. This is a post from a while back on one such discussion on a friend’s Facebook page. With some additions to the original.

I am a Christian AND a Scientist. I say this to preface all I am about to say, and will say that I firmly believe and have found support from personal study and inquiry that both creationism and the theory of evolution are NOT mutually exclusive. That being said, parameters must be set as to the language and terms of a discussion on this topic, that tends to anger and incite so many.

1. I am defining science in the following manner, source attached: “The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation [scientific method], and theoretical explanation of phenomena. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.” http://www.journaloftheoretics.com/editorials/vol-1/e1-3.htm

2. If you were to teach creationism in place of evolution as an explanation of why life exists on this planet as a science or in place of science, you would have to be able to empirically prove the existence of God and identify the mechanism by which the world was created–in FACTS and data, not just personal experiences, religious texts, and convictions. Otherwise, creationism must be taught in a social studies, religious studies or bible studies class, or a special class devoted to the debate as to the different schools of thought as to how humans (and other organisms) obtained their current form.

3. Let’s get one thing straight: the word “theory” means completely different things when being used in the common or everyday sense and when being applied to science. In science, theory means the following: “The collection and synthesis of the body of knowledge of a specific or group of natural phenomena that is largely accepted as true and provides a foundation of further study on the topic.” http://science.kennesaw.edu/~rmatson/3380theory.html In the more common sense, theory is defined as follows “A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.” (google dictionary) Note that this second definition is not necessarily based on fact and rigorous data collection, analysis and scrutiny. Gravity, for example is a theory, yet we all observe it. Entire branches of technology (engineering & archetecture, satellites for cell phone/other nefarious use, aerospace/aircraft, etc.) are, however, based on it and we all benefit from these things in our daily lives either directly or indirectly.

4. Uncertainty is a principle that is common to both faith and science. Yet those firmly entrenched on BOTH sides of the debate discredit the opposition when they show uncertainty or unprovable things as part of their argument. Both faith and science rely heavily on things that we sometimes cannot normally see, taste, touch, hear, smell or otherwise normally experience. I don’t have superman vision and cannot see all the germs, viruses, etc that live on my skin and myriad other surfaces, yet I still believe washing my hands and food prep areas will keep me healthy. Yet, I have not proven it on my own. Science simply states uncertainty in the sense that “we’re going to assume these things are correct because all observable evidence suggests they are true. This allows us to move on and investigate this topic further. And we may prove ourselves wrong, but we’re okay with that.”

5. Genetics and DNA were mentioned. The mechanisms of genetics can be mathematically proven to show significant changes in the gene pool over time. This may be enough to create something that evolutionary biologists call “speciation” or the development of a significantly new form of life. FACT.

6. God gave me a brain, and I fully intend to use it to examine all the available data. To not do so would be to not make manifest fully (or as much as possible, because I am not perfect) the gifts that I was given.

7. You can’t pick and choose what you choose to believe about the results of the scientific method. Either you believe it’s credible or not. If you don’t find it credible, throw away all your tech, genetically modified food products, in-vitro fertilization techniques, plastic products, cleaning chemicals, surgical techniques, hope for cures for terminal illnesses and all modern conveniences because these things were not given to us directly by God, but created by human ingenuity.

8. Both science and faith present us with things that are uncomfortable and require things that must be wrestled with. Life experiences, prayer and bible study can reveal truths within ourselves that we find to challenge our currently accepted roles and beliefs within our lives. Similarly, science reveals things about the world around us that are not always compatible with our world view or current acceptance of the world around us. Galileo Galilei suggested that the earth revolves around the sun, a very controversial statement at the time that resulted in him being accused of heresy; this is not not only an established fact now, but the basis for further scientific investigation.

9. Both science and religion have historically mislead people, to gain followers, to gain power, to gain funding, or (as is most often the case) unintentionally due to poor interpretation of the information (bible or data, take your pick). This doesn’t mean that religious followers or scientists are evil or believe in false things.

10. Time: Both God and Scientific understanding have different time scales than what we understand. Geologic data is BILLIONS of years old. 7 days may not be the literal interpretation of the creation of earth.

11. Evolution, defenition: “Evolution is a change in the gene pool of a population over time. A gene is a hereditary unit that can be passed on unaltered for many generations. The gene pool is the set of all genes in a species or population.” http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-intro-to-biology.html Nowhere in evolutionary biology will you find ” …and, quite suddenly, monkeys became human.”

12. To presume that God creates and manufactures life in a way I fully understand would mean I presume to fully know the mind and nature of God. I personally find that to be very arrogant. One interpretation is that science could be a mechanism by which God works in a physical world.

All I ask for people wrestling with the implications of evolution on one’s faith is that they simply examine and allow others to examine the facts and accept that the process of reconciling these things within oneself could take a lifetime.