Yesterday on Boston Common I saw a young man on a skateboard collide with a child. The skateboarder was racing down the promenade and smashed into the child with full force. I saw this happen from a considerable distance. It happened without a sound. It happened in dead silence. The cry of the terrified child as she darted to avoid the skateboard and the scream of the child’s mother at the moment of impact were absorbed by the gray wool of the November day. The child’s body simply lifted up into the air and, in slow motion, as if in a dream, floated above the promenade, bounced twice like a rubber ball, and lay still.
During the time the child was in the air, the spinning Earth carried her half a mile to the east. The motion of the Earth about the sun carried her back again forty miles westward. The drift of the solar system among the stars of the Milky Way bore her silently twenty miles toward the star Vega. The turning pinwheel of the Milky Way Galaxy carried her 300 miles in a great circle about the galactic center. After that huge flight through space she hit the ground and bounced like a rubber ball. She lifted up into the air and flew across the Galaxy and bounced on the pavement.
The physical silence of the universe is matched by its moral silence. A child flies through the air toward injury, and the galaxies continue to whirl on well-oiled axes. But why should I expect anything else? There are no Elysian Fields up there beyond the seventh sphere where gods pause in their revels to glance down aghast at our petty tragedies. What’s up there is just one galaxy after another, magnificent in their silent turning, sublime in their huge indifference. The number of galaxies may be infinite. Our indignation is finite. Divide any finite number by infinity and you get zero.