Views from the Valley» Susan BOLAN

Science and Spirit

I’ve given a lot of thought about how the universe works, especially this week, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I am old enough to remember where I was on that day, the date etched in my mind since July 20, 1969. It was six days before my ninth birthday and I was at the house of my friend Karen who lived on Ellenbogen. I don’t think my young brain fully grasped the significance, that moment of touchdown and first steps afterward, but it was exciting. I am so impressed now by the science of it, the talented people who calculated the precise mathematics that sent a rocket up, hit a target hundreds of thousands miles away and brought it home without error. Kudos to all the scientists who contributed to the “space race” that paved the way for future generations of space exploration.

I have always loved science. From my early years of letting caterpillars crawl on my arms and making rock candy to the behavioral research I did with primates at the Los Angeles Zoo, it’s always been an important part of my life. Investigating.  Tabulating. Summarizing. Using scientific method to look at something just makes sense to me. I get frustrated, though, when I read a headline, “Study shows…” making a claim that is not backed up by good data or a well-designed study.

I had a colleague at the Zoo, Don, who was both a science guy and a spiritual man. When I met him, I hadn’t realized that it was possible to be both. I had grown up attending church and had a belief in God but I started to push religion away in college as I learned more about anthropology and the roots of man. In my mind, the ideas of science and religion competed against each other. But Don embraced both, having an innate curiosity to learn all he could in his lifetime and thanking God for the gifts that were given to him.

At some point after both Don and I left the Zoo, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor grew and he lost his ability to speak. Don had always had such a loud commanding voice. It was sad to hear that he had become a weak person, a shell of the dynamic man I knew. I had a young baby at the time so I did not go to the hospital to visit him. One day, while doing work around the house, Don’s voice came booming into my head. At first, I was completely startled by it, his deep voice talking to me. How could that be? But it happened over and over again during the months that followed and I came to believe that he had found a way to communicate. His words were both comforting and encouraging. I can only say that I listened. And I wept. 

Don died that year. The day of his life celebration, I felt him leave me. In a whoosh he was gone while the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd played, “I must be traveling on now, too many places I’ve got to see.”

Now call me crazy but I could no longer ignore that there is more to this life than what we can see, touch and record. I came to accept both science and spirit.

Most days when I am at my ranch and look at the stars in the sky, I can see the Milky Way galaxy. I can appreciate the way the stars illuminate and revolve in the sky in an elliptical pattern. I can also revel at the vastness of the universe and how it makes me feel being grounded on earth. I speak to the sky and thank anyone up there listening for the blessings I have been given. Sometimes I thank Don.

Susan Bolan