In my dream, I take my 4/5 and 7/8 graders to an IMAX movie at the Mac Planetarium (which doesn’t really exist). The premise of the movie is to visually depict our latest theories about the creation of galaxies, and how the universe keeps expanding and contracting, expanding and contracting, indefinitely and infinitely, as far as we humans can imagine. But woven into the physics and astronomy lesson is a story about a middle-aged couple who have lost their son in a war, and who decide to take a star-watching cruise in Alaska as a way to find some solace. The special thing about this IMAX spectacle is that while it’s being projected on a huge, 360-degree overhead canopy screen in surround-sound, the young docents of the planetarium are also performing it live – narrating and puppeteering from the back of the theater. One of the docents is Ruthy!
The kids are encouraged to move around the empty floor of the theater during the movie. In fact, another docent leads them around and around in huge circles – now running, now crawling – on the vast carpeted terrain, the topography of which isn’t flat, but rolling and hilly. They’re really getting tired out! Now and then, the docent brings them to a breathless halt and directs their attention to the action overhead – stars streaking across the ceiling; clouds of gas and light eddying and pooling; newly-minted constellations glittering regally – and they stand there gazing upward, sweating and amazed by how real it all seems, and how close to them.
At one point in the story, the couple’s boat runs aground. There is disaster in the frigid Arctic waters. Shocked, the kids fall silent, stare in open-mouthed horror. Sorrow upon sorrow! Those people don’t deserve another tragedy!
And then it’s Ruthy’s turn to perform, from the back of the theater.
Her god-sized index finger appears on the screen overhead, dipping into the frame and into a pulsing, throbbing, star-flecked swirl of red and black gas. She begins to stir the red and black cloud with her finger, casually at first, exactly as my grandmother used to mix a squeeze of lemon into her scotch-and-soda, if there was no cocktail straw or swizzle stick on hand. Then, gaining speed, the centrifuge of her swirling starts to gather the gases and the stars into a flickering ball of energy, growing denser and denser with each rotation around the axis of her index finger. Density solidifies into matter. Matter condenses into heat. But the heat can’t contain its own entropy, and just at the point where the whole thing is about to explode into catastrophe shrapnel, Ruthy lifts her finger out of the picture. The spinning continues, but in slow motion, so we can see it clearly. To our amazement, we can see that the explosion will, at worst, merely end in a cascade of party glitter. Confetti to welcome us home.
“This is how creation happens,” Ruthy tells us, speaking slowly into her head-set mic. “First, there is potential everywhere you turn. Then, swirling currents of emotion come in to set potential spinning. Depending on the feeling, different forms of matter spin into being. Disaster, grief and longing, being too much for the Light of the Universe to bear, make whirlpools and black holes that will – if you trust in Time – eventually collapse back into laughter.”