Everything a human eats has to have been alive at some point. We cannot pick up plain dirt and digest it. For it to be any use to our metabolism, that wyrd quality known as “life” must have interrupted that matter’s existence at some point.

And it doesn’t matter if that dirt was formerly part of “life.” That’s not good enough. Yet the matter we eat is dead. The matter we ingest has to have been recently living, but not too long dead. It’s bizarre.




The Thirties & Forties had to lead to the Fifties. The Fifties to the Sixties. The Sixties to the Seventies.

In the depths of each phase, the forces defining that phase seem permanent. But already has been stamped their expiration date, and the next cycle cued up to overtake.

It’s time to pause for a moment and honor the greatest accomplishment of any life form on this planet: the creation of the oxygen atmosphere by cyanobacteria. It took a billion years. For untold millennia, tiny blue-green algae woke up, punched the time clock, and spent the day busily churning out oxygen. They knew they wouldn’t live to see the end goal, but they never faltered, because they had a dream and they believed in that dream. Humanity’s most majestic achievement, global climate change, is a mere modification of the work done by those pioneers. Cyanobacteria: the first and still the best.

Here’s an odd patriotic note as we head into the Independence Day weekend: Between the Great Lakes battles and the riverine engagements of the Civil War, the United States had seen more significant inland naval combat than any other nation on earth. China has the Battle of the Red Cliffs, East Africa the Battle for Lake Tanganyika, but no one can match the extent and importance of our fresh-water operations.

(We share the Great Lakes battles (which include Lake Champlain for these purposes) with Canada, but they don’t have the Civil War experience. And hey, we could throw in the riverine operations in Vietnam for good measure.)


Last night I revisited one of the Libraries I See In Dreams, the academic one described here. The layout was different than it has been, an open space with galleries looking down at the stacks. My five-year-old daughter accompanied me, and, as always, I had to make sure she I didn’t lose her and that she didn’t get into any mischief. We ended up among the Periodical archives, in the basement. The semester was just beginning, with the prospect of new learning and new transformations. It’s always a thrill to revisit that feeling.

After the third day, they returned to Galilee. They swam, fished, sang, slept on the beach, sat around the fire at night. Their Teacher—now their Lord–was with them, sitting among them, laughing. This was a season of rest between what they had witnessed and what they knew now they would do.

But in this joyous time, something gnawed at Nathanael. He waited until the others were out on the boat. Only the Lord and himself sat on the beach. He had to ask.

“Lord, what is the fate of my cousin, Judas?”

“What should be his fate?”

Nathanael hadn’t expected that. He had dreaded, but expected, to hear that Jude would be condemned on earth and in heaven. He had hoped that, perhaps, the Lord would say Jude was forgiven.

Jude had betrayed the Lord, despaired and encompassed both Jesus’s destruction and his own. Jude had given in, willingly forfeited all the ties that bound them.

But those ties had been real. Jude had walked with them, preached with him, been their friend and brother through it all (until the very end). Surely that must count for something.

Justice or mercy? Was this a test? If he answered wrong, would he also be condemned? Why was the Lord doing this to him?

Then he saw Jesus’s eyes and realized that whatever was in his heart, his Lord already knew it. He might as well say.

“I would see Judas forgiven, Lord. He was my beloved kin, and our beloved brother.”

For a moment he was afraid. Then the Lord spoke.

“Didn’t I say what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven?” He clapped Nathanael on the shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. I have not lost one of those the Father gave me.”

Tears filled Nathanael’s eyes. When he cleared them, the Lord was no longer there.

The others rowed back in. They ate of the catch a great plenty.

Nathanael had decided he didn’t like Jerusalem.

Whatever he has expected when they had entered into this city, this wasn’t it. First there had been a burst of adoration, with crowds cheering and hopes flying. Everyone seemed to be waiting for “it.” Even though no one quite knew what “it” was. The Teacher had always been rather cryptic about “it,” but had made it plain that “it” was going to happen, that it would happen in Jerusalem, and that it would be glorious.

By midweek, there was no sign of “it.” No angels. No armies miraculously sweeping away the omnipresent Roman soldiers. No poor being made high. Nothing. The crowds melted away as quickly as they came, replaced by warnings that “Men are looking for you. Important men. You better watch your back.”

The worst change was with the Teacher. No more laughter, no more bold declarations. The failure of “it” to happen weighed on him the worst. At his best now he seemed resigned, at his worst petulant. “This is how it must be,” he kept saying. Nathanael had once thought giving up his family and livelihood to follow the Teacher had been the best move he’d ever made. Now he was reconsidering.

Thank heaven Judas was there. Judas, his cousin, who had brought him to the Teacher and preceded him into the Twelve. Judas, the wisest, most pious person he had ever known.

“What do we do, Jude?” he asked his cousin.

“We stay with him. For as long as he deserves.”

It was Passover. A man they had met on Sunday had then offered them a room for the Seder. Now he seemed distinctly nervous to have them under his roof, but he wasn’t rude enough to rescind the gesture.

The Teacher took his place at their head. He seemed to be in a daze. He stared at the elements of the Seder. He picked up a matzoh.

Snap! The crusty bread fractured in his hands, hard enough to send splinters around the room.

The Teacher looked at them and said “This is my body. As this is broken, I will be broken.”

No one said anything.

He beat on the matzoh with his fist, smashing it. He gave each of them a fragment. “Eat this. This is my flesh. Eat it.”

Peter spoke up, in a soothing tone: “Teacher, do you–”

“Eat!” Jesus screamed. “If you do not eat this, you are not my disciples!”

So they ate.

The Teacher picked up the cup and said “This is blood. This cup is filled with blood. Drink it, or you are not my disciples.”

They passed the cup around in silence.

“The end has come. All of you will abandon me. One of you will encompass my destruction. And it has to be this way. It can be no other way.”

It was clear now: the lovely Teacher had gone mad. The weight of the week had broken him. Nathanael wanted to cry out and tear his clothes, but it might only anger him more. They had sacrificed everything for this madman. Next to him he could see Judas’s face red with unspoken anger.

The teacher stood.

“I am going to pray at Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. Do what you must.”

He left. A few baffled minutes later, the owner of the house appeared. “Why are you still here? I can’t have you found here! Get out!”

So Nathanael and the others stumbled into the lightless street, trying to decide what to do. Peter, James, and John went off to find the Teacher. Phillip wanted to return to Galilee in the morning. Matthew spoke of going to the Essenes.

Nathanael had never felt more unsure in his life. He turned to his oldest friend:

“Judas, what do you think we should do? Jude? Jude?”

Next to him, the street was empty. The darkness had swallowed Judas.