I was making tuna salad for my son and he and I were talking about fractals. I have one of those manual can openers from Pampered Chef. Whenever I open a can of tuna, it takes twelve turns of the wrist. I count things like that. I always have.
I count the steps I take as I run, I count the number of kisses I shower on H in a flurry he can’t escape, I count the number of times the blade of the knife slices through an onion as I chop it for a pan of collard greens. I’ve been counting from the moment I learned how.
Some might call it a quirk and say I should put a penny on it – like when the needle of the record player would get stuck in one of those miniscule grooves of vinyl as I rollerskated in my parents’ basement as a teenager. I’d skate over and tap the arm of the record player so Dionne Warwick could keep on singing “Walk On By”, beneath the twinkle of Christmas lights left over from my sixteenth birthday party. If I didn’t want to have to keep stopping to tap the arm of the record player, I’d put a penny on the arm to weigh it down so it would keep on pushing through those stubborn grooves of vinyl.
My wrist makes the twelfth turn and I’m rewarded with the tiniest tap from the rim of the tuna can; confirmation of what I already know to be true. My son is talking Quantum Physics and I don’t even know if that’s something I should capitalize. I release the can opener from the lid of the tuna can and turn the can opener on its side. This model of can opener features something like pincers so I can remove the lid without touching the can with my fingers.
Higgs Boson is the reason we’re having this conversation over a can of tuna in my kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. “The God Particle” some scientists call it. I needed someone to explain it to me in simple terms, and so I’d asked my son what he knew. He likes stuff like that.
He’s the proverbial Preacher’s Kid (PK) – disenchanted with church and religion and impatient with people who try to put him and God in a box. Rarely the same box. “Everyone’s trying to answer the same questions,” he’s saying. I look over at him leaning against the windowsill. Sometimes talking to him is like talking to a smarter, wiser, more measured version of my younger self. He’s always thought we try to make the faith thing far too easy, too simple. He entertains thoughts of fourth dimensions and the real meaning of eternity. The same things I hid from in the dark when I was young, because I could never find a way to make it all add up.
If you were to ask me, I’d claim an aversion to math. “I do words, not numbers,” I often say.
With my right foot, I step on the pedal that releases the lid of the trash can, and it opens like the mouth of the whale that swallowed Jonah whole (if you’re a person who reads the story literally). I drop the lid from the tuna can inside and the trash can shuts in silence. Honestly, I’m telling myself, I like math more than I let on. I like the way two plus two always equals four. I like the fact that x always equals something – it never equals nothing. Even zero is something. I like the fact that it takes twelve turns of my wrist to open a can of tuna.
“What questions? Who’s trying to answer them?” I hear myself asking.
“Everyone. Science. Religion. Math. Art,” he answers. “Everyone wants to know why we’re here, and why do we care, and why are we all connected to one another, and why does it matter?”
“Higgs Boson?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says. “We’re all trying to answer the same question.”
I’m thinking this over as I watch a steady stream of pickle juice run from the jar in my hand and into the bowl of tuna. I’m wondering if I’m asking those same questions. Are those the questions I hid from in the dark when I was a younger me? Who am I kidding? I still hide in the dark.
“Most of the time,” my son is saying, “everyone skips over the starting place, though.”
“The starting place?”
“God is love,” he says. “Everyone skips over that. They just want to figure it all out. So they skip right over the part about God being love.” I was spreading tuna salad on a slice of bread and if you had looked through the kitchen window and you saw us standing there, you might have thought you were watching a guy and his mom, getting ready for lunch. And I don’t really know how to tell you that time folded in on itself and went fast and stood still all at once. I don’t know how to describe the way I suddenly knew that I’m connected with those who came before me and those who will come after me and the guy who rides his skateboard in front of my house every day. I don’t know the words to type that will make sense of the way Love showed up right there in my kitchen and I breathed in and took my fill and then the world turned right side up (or upside down?) again.
“Yeah,” my son said as he bit into his tuna salad sandwich. “God is love. You can’t skip over that.”