50 thoughts on turning 50: #2 We’re just frosting on the cake

Who knows what's actually out there, in a galaxy far, far away ...

Who knows what’s actually out there, in a galaxy far, far away …

I was fascinated last year to hear astrophysicist Adam Reiss on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, explaining (with great humor, I might add) about how much we don’t really know about the universe. Talking to the show’s host Peter Sagal and panelists including P.J. O’Rouke, Reiss said:

SAGAL: I mean, isn’t it bizarre though to find out that 73 percent of the observable universe is actually invisible; we have no idea what it is?

RIESS: You know, it’s not just the 73 percent, it’s the other, there’s a 25 percent chunk in there called Dark Matter. We don’t know what that stuff is either. So…

SAGAL: Well wait a minute, 73 percent of the universe…

P.J. O’ROURKE: Plus.

SAGAL: So you’re telling use that everything that we see in the universe when we look out and we see all these galaxies and all this stuff out there, that’s 3 percent?

RIESS: That’s right. We’re really just the frosting on a cake and we don’t know what’s inside the cake.

Think about that: of the part of universe that we know about, 73% is invisible to us. And of what we can see, 25% is made up of stuff we don’t even understand. We can only see and understand about 3% of the known universe.

We don’t even know what’s beyond what we know – dark holes, other universes, infinity.

We like to think that with all of the advancements in science, medicine, and technology that we’re pretty darned smart. But the reality is that, when it comes down to it, we don’t know squat. We are, in fact, just tiny dust specks on a little pebble, floating around out there in a universe so mysterious and enormous that we don’t even know how much we don’t know.

It’s “Horton Hears A Who”, the reality show.

Think about that the next time you want to puff yourself up and proclaim there is no God. The truth is, you don’t know. You can’t know. You’re just frosting. Pretty, but also pretty tiny in the whole scheme of things.

Does that depress you? Not me. To quote Walter Bishop on “Fringe”: “Where would the fun be if we knew all there is to know?”

You can listen to the episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” here.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #1 Be nice. It’s contagious.

I love this video making the rounds online, mostly because it exemplifies something I’ve learned over my life about being nice: you have to be nice without expecting anything in return.

You can’t “do good” to win favor, raise your standing in the community, earn points you can cash in later, or pat yourself on the back. If you give of your time, energy and money for any of those reasons, you’ll drain yourself dry, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Neither you nor anyone else will be better for it.

Instead, “do good” because it’s who you are, and let the satisfaction from “doing good” be your reward. It’s a far greater return than you could have asked for … and it can change the world.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: intro

Yup, its true. In a few weeks, this little chickadee celebrates a milestone birthday: the 20th anniversary of my 30th birthday.

Or if you want to be more specific, I turn 350 in dog years.

I’ve been thinking back on my life, as old people do, and thought it would be fun (ie: work) to share 50 things I’ve learned about life, writing and myself to celebrate turning 50. It might be a video, a quote, a joke, a photo. Some I’ll explain; some I’ll just throw out there and let you figure out how it applies to your life.

The original plan was to share one thing for the 50 days leading up to my birthday. But we all know how undependable I am, so I’ll just start sharing and when I get to 50 things, I’ll be done. Hopefully, that’ll be before my 60th birthday.

Stay tuned for $#1 …


When you’re dead, you’re dead a long time

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Here’s the thing about death: it’s permanent. Regardless of your beliefs about the afterlife, in this life, when you take your last breath on earth, the story is over.

Think about it. In 100 years, with the exception of a handful of those who will defy the odds and live beyond a century, every single person on the earth will be dead.

Everyone. Gone. Me. You. Babies born at this exact moment, whether here in America or in India or China or Europe. In 100 years, billions of new humans will walk the earth, and while they’ll share our DNA and genealogical ties, none of them will be us.

How’s that for putting your life into perspective? It’s true. When you’re dead, you really are dead a long time.

Be nice: what I’m learning from being voiceless

Several months ago I issued a challenge to myself: to be nice for 365 days. I’d just come off of a couple of months of illness and was heading into the new year eager to take on a new project.

That lasted a few weeks.

I continued to recover from my repeated bouts of bronchitis/breathing issues (which began in November) and even recovered my voice enough to do two book signings. It was slow progress, but by the end of January, when I had a big book release party, I was feeling great.

Two days later, I was back in bed with a high fever, and a few days after that? I went to the doctor because I was having one of my breathing episodes; he took one look at me and sent me by ambulance to the ER. (That was the third time since November I’d been a guest in the emergency room.)

Eventually I had an exam by an ear/nose/throat (ENT) doctor, who diagnosed my problem as paradoxical vocal cord motion – in short, it’s a disorder that makes your vocal cords act wonky. It can affect not just your voice but your breathing, and it may explain a lot of the problems that I’ve been having post-bronchitis.

But it’s a never ending circle of illness. I had an allergic-like reaction to something in the reflux meds and while I’ve had slow progress on my voice, it’s still unpredictable. I’d start feeling great and then wham, I’d wake up one morning and be totally hoarse again.

Then last week I made yet another trip to the ER with incredible stomach pain. Diagnosis: inflammation of the stomach lining and a possible ulcer. For the last week, I’ve been barely able to eat while I wait for the meds to start working. I’m exhausted, mentally and physically.

I know, I know. I sound like some old lady whining about my aches and pains. Continue reading

Be Nice: you make it a wonderful life

I just posted a new column on my website, as part of the “Be Nice Project”. The topic: how many people do you interact with every day that you don’t even realize you interact with?

After I posted that question, I took some time to think about who I’d interacted with yesterday. Turns out, more people than I’d realized:

  • The cashier and cart guys at the grocery store;
  • a woman I kept running into at the store who was perpetually blocking the aisles and apologizing for it;
  • a stock clerk;
  • the staff at the pet store;
  • the girl who waited on my at Tim Hortons, along with the rest of the staff who waved from behind the counter;
  • my husband before he went to work;
  • my daughter on the phone;
  • and scads of people online.

But if you’d asked me who I saw yesterday, I probably would have told you “No one”.

The point of yesterday’s post was to get people thinking about how many people we actually interact with every day – because every single one of those interactions changes both people in some way.

I’d love for you to join me for this little adventure in 2014, to think about what it means to love your neighbor, put out positive energy, do random acts of kindness, or just be nice. You can read all of the Be Nice Project posts on my website.

Be Nice: Do I need a receipt to return my spiritual gifts?

sample spiritual gifts

This is a sample of questions on a spiritual gifts test.

Once upon a time, in a religious galaxy far, far away, I took a quiz to determine my spiritual gifts. It was part of a Sunday School class at a church I’d just joined, and I was looking for some guidance about what God wanted from me.

For those of you outside the world of Christianese, a spiritual gifts test (or assessment; there are no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test) is designed to evaluate what talents and abilities God has gifted you with to benefit the church. You might be suited to teaching, for example, or evangelizing, or serving meals, or opening up your home to people for Bible studies. It’s all designed to help a Christian grow in their faith and better serve his faith community.

The quiz usually asks questions like “I feel that I have a message from God to deliver to others” or “It makes me happy to do things for people in need” or “I often think about how I can comfort and encourage others in my congregation”. You assign it a number from, let’s say 0 to 5, for each statement, depending on how well you think it applies to you. There are no wrong answers; at the end you add up the score and, theoretically speaking, you should have some insight into how God has gifted you to serve Him and the church. Your gifts could be exhortation, giving, shepherding, prophecy, teaching, leadership. Stuff like that.

On my test, I got zero points for hospitality and serving others. Zero. Nothing. As in, I had no gifts relating to being nice or giving to others.

I don’t remember what my other scores were – I think I had some points for administration, which, given my inability to organize my own sock drawer or get my dog to sit even if I was holding a steak, should have been a clue the quiz was faulty). But overall, I wasn’t feeling very gifted. (And while there are technically no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test, try sitting in an evangelical Sunday School class and telling the leader you have zero interest in helping other people.)

You can continue reading this post on my website, but for those of you with short attention spans, here is our first Be Nice Project Discussion Question:

Is being nice – or generous or giving or helpful or kind – something innate, or is it something we learn? How nice do you think you are right now and how nice do you actually want to be – in other words, are you as nice as you feel you can be, should be – and if not, are you desiring to be nicer? And honest, there are no wrong answers.