Over the weekend there was a wonderful program called “This American Life” on our local National Public Radio station.
It detailed the story of a man who spent the first couple of decades of his life as a father doing what most fathers do. He rose in the mornings, kissed his wife and eventually some children, goodbye; hopped in his car and drove the same, predictable route to his job, which in this case happened to be in a small business.
At the end of the workday, the routine reversed and the father went home; had dinner with the family; watched some mind-numbing television; went to bed and prepared to do the whole thing again the next day.
The story, which was being told by the man’s only son, lapsed into the repetition of that work-a-day life — a life repeated by the millions of us all across the nation fortunate enough to have a job as part of our routine.
Eventually that routine and repetition clouded the father’s personality; he became withdrawn; he didn’t enjoy idle conversation. And eventually he left his family, his job, the day-in, day-out life that many of us take for granted. He hopscotched across the country, living the life of a vagabond because, his son said, “he always felt there was something else to life; more to life than what he had.”
Eventually the father re-established contact with his son, and told him that he’d found a new quest: He’d created a site on the World Wide Web that invited people from outer space to contact him, if there were any such people. He’d joined, in his own modest fashion, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Nothing wrong with that. The thought of finding some other life form somewhere in the universe is thrilling; our government has even launched vehicles into space, turned to radio-telescopes to try and accomplish the same thing.
Some say contact, if it ever comes, might threaten religions or the basis of our faith. But if it happens, there are those who prefer to think it will only add to the glory and grandeur of God and all he has created. The Vatican said as much just a few years ago.
But let’s return to the story of one man’s quest. His website, as you might imagine, was bombarded by fakes and frauds, teasers and taunters. Eventually he was contacted by a man who claimed to have proof of extra-terrestrial life — proof in the form of a tiny radio-transmitter that had been planted in his body. The transmitter could be seen on x-rays, and its radio waves could be measured and calibrated, he claimed.
He was willing to undergo rigorous scientific tests. And so the man who’d abandoned his family, who’d left his job looking for “more to life” than he had, contacted scientists and engineers who were his friends and scheduled a day-long series of tests for the man with the alleged alien implant.
They found nothing. No radio transmitter; no transmissions; no anything.
The vagabond took it well, and when the time came for his life to end, he asked his son for just one thing — please keep the website up and running, he said. “Surely there’s more to life than this.”
Perhaps there is. Perhaps life teems in the universe. Perhaps there are civilizations great and small that we’ll eventually hear from one day.
Or perhaps they are so far away that we’ll never make that long-sought contact.
But that’s not the point here. What may or may not be out there is exciting, for many.
So is what we already know. So is what we already have.
On any given evening, when time permits, there’s a couple — probably many couples — who take to their lawn chairs or porch swing each night when the day begins to surrender its light. That’s when the lightning bugs start to rise, little dots of twinkling life, that, over the course of the evening, will bring off-and-on illumination to trees and bushes, turning these early-summer nights into Christmas-like displays.
They watch sunsets, too, when the weather allows. And the herons and hawks that fly overhead, off to who-knows-where in search of sustenance, most likely.
And they watch the bats. The bats come out of hiding just a few moments after the first lightning bugs start showing off. The bats put on a display of flying that would put Chuck Yeager to shame. They dart and dive, turn and swoop in ways fighter pilots can only imagine.
It’s a remarkable display, all of it. And when you think about life — everything that God has given us — there is cause for jubilation. Even in those parts of town where life is hard, jobs are scarce and violence far too common, you still find moments of grace — in the laughter of children, in the work of a church, in the warm hellos of one long-time neighbor to another.
Sure, life can sometimes produce its periods of boredom. And it’s certain that not every day leaves us with a smile on our faces.
But look around; see what’s been created for you and for me. Pay attention to the world we’ve been given.
Because it’s wonderful.