I saw that the physicist at CERN believe they have located the elusive Higgs boson particle. As I understand it – and to be clear, I barely do – we – meaning physicists – now know why matter has mass. The Higgs boson was also nicknamed the God particle for its final-piece-of-the-puzzleness, the (previously) invisible glue that holds the universe together. There was much rejoicing. For instance, I was having dinner at the house of a friend of mine who is a retired aerospace engineer, and we had hardly shaken hands before he asked if I had heard about the Higgs boson. Its discovery was also the cover story for The Economist.
I once considered becoming a physicist. I was no math wiz, but physics felt like scientific theology, a great, elegant, interconnected unraveling of the universe’s ceaseless clock. I don’t remember the moment I chose writing instead, but in those days I would recite memorized poems in my head as I went about the world. The poems, it seemed to me, held as much information about the universe as Einstein’s theories, though my only proof of this was how the poems made me feel.
One of my favorite poems was Wallace Stevens’ “Bantam in Pinewood”, which contains the line, “Your world is you/I am my world.” It has taken me two decades to understand that human beings are emotional creatures – period. Our lives are led between love and fear, not birth and death. The writer’s landscape, if the writer is writing about people, are the hills and valleys of the heart. The physical world, from stars to quarks, cannot harm or strengthen the heart any more than a piano can write or un-write a sonata.
So Stevens was correct: I am my world, for my entire world is what I feel, and always will be so. The day after the big announcement the New York Times carried a photo of the jubilant press conference. In it, dozens of physicists were shown bursting with the relief that must come when the evidence is in and a person is finally allowed to be happy. How satisfying to find what you are searching for. Now the universe makes sense.
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