A Heart That Would Not End

The faraway sound was familiar, but strange.

“What’s that?” asked the child.

Holding hands with a grown-up, the child circled around the bubbling fountain and arrived at a bench near the Natural History Museum, where a man sat playing a didgeridoo.

Others stood by listening.

A strange, pulsing sound rose from the speaking end of the didgeridoo. It was like the rhythm of the ocean. Like the beating of a heart.

The man’s cheeks swelled as he breathed life through the instrument. The slightly crooked didgeridoo, painted from one end to the other with blue moons and yellow stars, was simply the hollow trunk of a young tree. With his lungs the man produced an ancient music that was resonant, churning, pulsing, surging.

Surging, surging, echoing, echoing.

The child ran a few steps forward, halted within arm’s reach of the magic.

The music never paused or faltered. The man didn’t stop. His eyes were half-closed and turned inward as his head swayed and lungs worked. His cheeks swelled. Beads of sweat made his face gleam. Suddenly the man’s eyes opened wide and he looked directly at the child. An eye winked.

The child laughed and dropped down to the ground to look up into the open end of the didgeridoo. From fallen leaves the child peered up toward the source of the strange music, into the darkness of the singing tree, searching.

There was nothing to see. Only space. A vast, unbounded space more mysterious than the deepest ocean. A place beneath blue moons and yellow stars.

Unfathomable, untouchable, an infinity overflowing with invisible music that swelled like an exultant heart.

And somewhere above it all: a winking eye.

“You’re going to get dirty down there,” said the grown-up. “Come on. It’s lunch time. Aren’t you hungry by now?”

The child jumped up and the two made their way through the sunny park, in step with a beating heart that would not end.

The Perfect Snowflake

Sanji was aware that he was dreaming.

He was walking through a silent white forest. Pine trees blanketed with snow rose on every side.

When Sanji was a young child, the lucid dreams had been frequent. That was a lifetime ago, when he spent his waking hours pretending to streak past a billion billion stars as he traveled in a spaceship to the far end of the universe.

As a middle-aged man he slept without dreams.

Until this night.

Sanji moved through the white forest deliberately and searched the snow with devouring eyes. He turned his feet in every direction, crushing fresh powder with every step, and at last halted on the bank of a frozen river. He could hear running water bubbling beneath the emerald ice.

Sanji had searched the unknown his entire adult life. Somehow, after many dreamless nights, he had become a leading theoretical physicist. He lived in a small world of unending numbers, odd symbols. Penning equations, scratching them out. Now he gazed down at the frozen river and knew for certain that he was asleep and dreaming, and that what he saw before him was absolutely real.

Looking up, he saw white particles floating from the trees. One drifted down, landed on his fingertip.

He held the snowflake next to one eye.

He stared at its shape.

The tiny snowflake was an infinity of jigsaw pieces fitted together into one seamless whole. Pieces of infinitesimal essence.

He caught his breath in the airless cold.

He had found something that he had never seen before. A perfect snowflake. The most simple of all possible truths.

The crystal snowflake was an unbidden, elegant revelation, like inspired strokes of chalk on a newly-cleaned chalkboard: a brilliant equation of white: a mathematical certainty that explained all things.

All Sanji’s life he’d grappled to unravel the truth. He had fought to weld together that desperate mathematical Theory of Everything.

Now it was on his finger.

In the perfect snowflake he saw the precise truth that was written at the beginning of all things. He saw the origin, the movement, the destiny of the universe. The final equation shimmered before him. He saw each finite number distinctly. It was simple. He’d found it.

Sanji heard a patter of rain.

He listened to the rain and was aware that it was dark. And that he was warm in bed.

Outside his bedroom window streaked dark ghostly rain.

Suddenly he remembered his dream.

Despair.

He had to write it down. That equation.

He knew there was a notepad on the desk by the window–and on top of the notepad a ballpoint pen. He jumped up.

The ghostly rain outside his room drew his eyes to the window. Softly glowing raindrops were coursing separately down the pane, like pulsing atoms or universes, flowing, colliding, combining, accelerating, vanishing. The raindrops followed defined courses, courses easily formulated, with destinies known. And yet each was a mystery. Each drop was birthed out of darkness–each was a vision beyond his reach.

Sanji blinked. He’d forgotten his dream.

One Strange, Shimmering Dream

Jimmy was born on a farm. As a young child he roamed the fields collecting shiny pebbles, colored leaves and other ordinary things.

When Jimmy was eight years old he had an idea. He carefully wrapped a loose bundle of dandelion fluff with old spiderwebs. He kept his small creation in a shoe box, which he hid under his bed.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, Jimmy would quietly slip out from under the sheets, reach under the bed and pull out the box. Very slowly, he’d lift the lid and shine a small flashlight inside.

The delicate, ghostly threads wrapped about fluffy whiteness gently gleamed. It seemed that he had assembled a magic thing. A strange, shimmering dream.

Over many years, working on that farm, his dreams grew.

One night, at the age of 86, Jimmy suddenly sat up in bed and whispered to his wife, “I’m going outside to look at the stars.”

“Okay, dear.” She rolled over.

Jimmy walked slowly in his pajamas out the back door. He shut the door silently.

Barefoot, Jimmy walked out onto the dark, newly tilled field. There was no moon. He reached down and crumbled some Earth in one hand. His barn was black under twinkling stars.

He disappeared into the barn.

A few minutes later, the large barn doors swung open.

And slowly up, up, up rose something weightless and strange–an enormous milky cloud, indistinct, streaked with ghostly threads, like a nebula in the dark sky, faintly shimmering amid the many bright stars–rising up, up.

Dandelion fluff and old spiderwebs float easily. Seeds are meant to fly. Carefully made webs bind living things to the air.

Jimmy watched from the center of his finished creation. Higher and higher he rose, above the barn and dark fields, above his tiny farmhouse, now vanishing far below. The farmhouse vanished.

Riding among the stars, Jimmy ascended.

Night deepened. The stars multiplied. He revolved slowly among them, his shimmering dream-thing reflecting twinkling light, propelled like a raft in a sparkling stream. Quietly, Jimmy watched.

When he looked over his shoulder, he noticed that the Earth could now easily fit into the palm of one hand. The Earth had become a round blue eye. Then it winked shut.

And the dazzling stars grew thick and close, as if they could be easily touched. Jimmy reached out one hand. Motes of light gathered together, withdrew, and the galaxy once so impossibly large became suddenly tiny, and a billion other galaxies rushed in around him like stars, whirling like stars–stars containing billions of stars.

That infinite light could not be described.

In his dream-thing, he floated on. Through galaxies of galaxies, until they, too, could fit in the palm of one hand.

The night was unusually quiet.

When his wife woke up, Jimmy was gone. He had passed far away.