A Meditation

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is just a meditative piece that I wrote back in March. Please, comment.

Submitted: July 22, 2008

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Submitted: July 22, 2008

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A Meditation

The tendency of a body to dissolve into a state of disarray and randomness is entropy.

The tendency of a body to approach a harmonic balance between the sums of the forces acting upon it is equilibrium.

Entropy is often described in the terms of a fallen tree. Imagine a felled redwood. The roots that once firmly anchored the tree into the ground now dangle like useless strands of hair from the stub of its trunk. The leaves that once grew toward the sky like hands reaching for the sun’s embrace now hang limply from its branches.

Severed from its lifeline, the tree slowly begins to decay. The withered leaves fall from its limbs. The bark peels away and exposes its fleshy core like an open wound, leaving it vulnerable to the ravages of time. After months the tree’s sad corpse lays hollow, providing habitat for the various animals that have infested its remains. After years, only a pathetic heap of ashen debris remains where it once stood in majestic glory.

The fallen tree is the archetypical demonstration of the concept of entropy, a measure of the unavailable energy in the universe. Feeble and inert, with all of its potential drained, the tree is like a dead battery; its capacity to draw a current and generate power has expired.

Contrast this image to one of a flourishing garden. In the delicate tradeoff between form and function, flowers and ferns exude elegance while maintaining maximally efficient oxygen output compared to photosynthetic input. Each of the plants within the garden interacts with the others as partners, trying to sustain stability and concord while dividing the limited nutrients equally among them. This is an example of equilibrium.

These two apparent opposites, entropy and equilibrium, would to the untrained eye seem to be in constant discord. In fact they are complements, the yin and the yang of the cosmic order, drawing together the elements of life into a universal gestalt.

There is a passage in The Brothers Karamazov by the legendary author Fyodor Dostoevsky which speaks of the early life of an elderly Russian monk. The elder, a wise and noble man, tells his young novice monk about his older brother, Markel, who passed away many years before from tuberculosis at the age of seventeen. Markel is described as a young man with a “hasty, irritable temperament” who, to the dismay of his deeply religious family, rejected all notion of God and gave himself entirely to atheism. However, once he felt himself seized by Death’s grasp, Markel experienced a spiritual transformation. The life that was slowly slipping away from him became divine and precious. The imminence of death did not frighten Markel, but awakened him to the beauty and value of life. His rekindled faith inspired humility and respect before all creation. Markel believed that he was guilty before everyone else. He was guilty before the people he despised, the birds and the trees he scorned, the God that he refused to acknowledge. “I want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not even know how to love them. Let me be sinful before everyone, but so that everyone will forgive me, and that is paradise. Am I not in paradise now?”

 At first reading, these words appeared to be nothing more that the transcendent exclamations of a sick and dying man. What could these words mean, and what relevance could they have to my life? I did not understand. How could I be guilty before someone I do not, and never will know? Why should I lower my head before someone against whom I have never trespassed? What responsibility do I bear for his or anyone else’s sufferings?

Then one day soon after I read this passage I was presented with a moral dilemma in my AP Psychology class. We were to pretend that we were commanding officers in Korea during the Korean War. One member of our battalion had to go blow up a bridge to save the rest from near certain death at the hands of the enemy. The man who went had four to one odds against survival, but the rest would probably survive and make it to safety if he completed his mission. There were three courses of action that we could take: to send a sick man, whose chances of survival were already limited; to go ourselves, but in doing so compromise the safety of the group because it would no longer have a leader; or to send a man who, though healthy and strong, was also morally misguided, devious, and mistrusted by the rest of the group because he fought and stole.

I decided that the best person to send on this kamikaze mission would be the person with the greatest chance of coming out alive. In this case, it would have to be the outcast. The rest of the class almost unanimously agreed that the outcast man should be sent, but for different reasons. Most believed that he should be sent because he was not liked, because he would not be missed if he were to die. He had many enemies; he had no friends.

I thought it rather disturbing that we should condemn a man to his death on the basis of, essentially, a popularity poll. Be that as it may, I realize that very, very few people will ever be in such an unforgiving position as the arbiter of another man’s fate. I also realize that this was an imaginary man in an imaginary situation, and that if faced in reality with such a dilemma, most of us would take pause before we chose our course of action.

But consider, for a moment, that this were an actual human being. Imagine that this man, whom we are to sacrifice for our own sake, is in fact an actual person, who has lived his own life, who has a family, possibly a lover, who may have even fathered children. We can have no idea what kind of life this man has led. We cannot imagine the circumstances that have taken him down  this unfortunate road in life.

I t occurred to me that I am no one to judge such a man as he. I was not there to witness his upbringing or to experience his struggles. Yet here I have arbitrarily decided that he is the one who must suffer for our sake. He is the one who must be cast into the lake of fire so that others who are more worthy may continue to live.

It is then that I realized that, as this man’s executioner, I am guilty before him. I am guilty before all whom I would unjustly sacrifice for the possibility of my own survival. The words of Markel began to take on a new meaning with this revelation.

I believe that there is universality in the lesson of this fictional Russian boy. We are so often eager to point the accusatory finger without realizing that we all share the same guilt.

I believe that the state of the world is similar to that of a dying tree. When we see our brothers as our enemies, life becomes a constant and chaotic battle between opposing forces. But when the guilt that divides us is counteracted by a forgiveness that unites, such as the forgiveness which Markel beseeched, life becomes a garden, with each flower acting in synergy with the other to maintain a homeostatic state.

Guilt and forgiveness. Entropy and equilibrium. Yin and Yang.


© Copyright 2017 Eliza Wollenstone. All rights reserved.

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