In his new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson makes this stunning observation:
The universe continues to evolve. And yes, every one of our body’s atoms is traceable to the big bang and to the thermonuclear furnaces within high-mass stars that exploded more than 5 billion years ago.
We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.
This is a very elegant way of saying, yes, we are all interconnected, here on Earth and, in ways we do not yet understand, to the entire Universe. It’s a Big Concept, mind-blowing.
I had a tiny taste of that interconnectedness last week when I picked up a voicemail. The message was from a woman who identified herself as living in New York City. She had found my number through an Internet search (which was a little creepy, I have to admit—am I really that easy to find?) because she was in possession of a wedding scrapbook that belonged to my parents.
The date on the album was July 1, 1949—their wedding day. She explained in the voicemail that she had acquired the album through an antique store in Beacon, N.Y., a town on the Hudson River about an hour north of where my parents used to live. She left a number and hoped I would call back.
To say I was shocked is an understatement. My mother died in 1999. A couple of years later, my father’s health began to decline, and we needed to move him into an independent living community. When we sold the house, there was an estate sale. I wasn’t present, but my older sister and my father were. Dealers came before the sale was open to the general public, looking for items to buy and resell. Later, when I was helping my father move into his new apartment, I realized that the wedding album had disappeared. All these years, I’ve wondered what happened to it.
Given the uncanny accuracy of the date on the album and location of the antique store, plus the friendly tone of the woman’s voice, I decided to respond. I also looked her up on the Internet and found that she had a studio in Manhattan. Her recording on her phone sounded legit, so I left a message. A couple of hours later, she called me back.
It turns out that she is an artist (hence the studio) and an aficionado of 1950’s ephemera. The scrapbook apparently contained all sorts of correspondence, including telegrams, congratulatory cards, newspaper clippings and more. About 15 years ago, she and family members had been nosing around the antique store, when she was drawn to my parents’ album. Although she didn’t purchase it, her family saw how much she liked it and bought it for her as a gift.
Much as she enjoyed it, early on, she considered trying to return it to a family member. But this was before the Internet was so robust. Recent events in her personal life compelled her to try again. And that’s when she found me.
(Mystery solved at last, it boggles my mind to think that the dealer who bought the album in the estate sale never bothered to check with my father and sister, sitting right there, to be sure that such a personal item really was for sale. But I digress.)
A couple of days after the artist and I spoke, a large package arrived via FedEx. It was the long lost wedding scrapbook, a revelation to me, because my memory was of a photo album, rather than such a rich compendium. Not only does it include a page from my mother’s diary on the day she got engaged to my father; it also includes many personal letters, such as my grandparents’ ecstatic correspondence when they learned that my mother was pregnant with my older sister. In the center of the album are my parents’ wedding portraits, plus two wonderful photos of my grandmothers in their elegant hats, holding glasses of champagne. I thought these images were lost forever.
The Internet is a source of so much that is vile in this world—and so much that is magnificent. Through the ether of cyberspace, empathy can spread. My deepest gratitude to the artist who thought enough to consider how much it would mean for our family to recover this lost treasure and took the risk to find me. Stardust, indeed.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.