While Riley MacLean waits for her biopsy results, she muses on how the universe has impacted her life.

Enjoy the story. And check out my blog site for the signup for my Wednesday newsletter. Be the first to read my stories each week.

The Power of the Universe

Bob Gillen

Riley MacLean sat on a rigid plastic chair in an exam room waiting for her doctor. Apprehensive about biopsy results. “Do you want a magazine?” the medical assistant had asked her. “He’s running behind. We’ve been swamped today.”

Riley chose to sit quietly, composing herself. Five long, deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Relax.

Riley believed in the power of the universe.

Two weeks prior Riley had sat here as her doctor explained they had found a possible carcinoma on her uterus during an MRI scan. He scheduled a biopsy to check. Riley felt confident. But doubt tingled inside her gut. Like the tiny sensation when an ant crawled up your arm. Barely there. But clearly present.

Riley practiced meditation daily. She was aware there are not simply the collected memories of her life, of the years behind her. More than memories. Physical bits residing in her body. In her sessions she often called upon the healing power of the universe. She will gaze up at the stars, marvel at the photos sent back by the latest telescopes and satellites.

Riley believed in the power of the universe. 

Now, in the exam room, she closed her eyes, seeking peace. Inhale. Exhale. Her mind wandered. Her childhood home on the upper west side of Manhattan came to mind. She often played in Central Park, climbing the rocks, watching horses go by on the bridal path, chasing squirrels that scrambled for scraps of popcorn.

In her body, Riley believed, she carried microscopic molecules of her life. A speck of rock from Central Park. An atom from the park grass. 

When she swam in the ocean, when she swallowed a taste of sea water, in that swallow a bit from an old sea turtle far out at sea entered her body. Now a part of her.

These bits, she believed, now worked to counter the cells her body did not want.

Riley had done a drive across country years back. Breathing in the air of dozens of states. Hills, mountains, lakes, plains. Grasses and trees. Maybe breathing in a speck of a firefly from Kansas, a bison’s atom from the west, a trace of water from Lake Tahoe, a molecule from the sand in Malibu. All of these, again, she called on to prevent the unwanted cells.

Riley believed in the power of the universe.

She had worked on Wall Street, first for summer jobs, then later in fulltime work. She ate her lunch in Trinity churchyard in the summer. A speck of residue from the grave of Alexander Hamilton resided in her. As did an atom from the guitar of a busker band in the nearby city park.

All of these microscopic bits nourished her body. Fed her. The molecules from non-living things were immortal, and resided inside her.

Riley believed in the power of the universe. 

She knew that the human body regenerates many of its cells periodically. Parts of us are brand new as we age. But she also knew that some of these cells, like the life rings on a tree trunk, remained inside her for her lifetime. And in these prevailing cells resided bits of her entire life, bits of her life experiences, bits of the universe. She was, at once, continually refreshing herself and also preserving herself.

Riley once heard Ray Bradbury speak at a book signing. She had been browsing when she spied the sign announcing the signing would start in half an hour. She had found a seat at the rear of the store, waited for Bradbury to appear. His adult daughter pushed his wheelchair in, Bradbury’s shock of white hair capping the image. At the Q&A a woman had asked Bradbury, What advice do you have for young people today? Bradbury had raised his shoulders, a gleam of passion sparking in his eyes. “We must go back to the moon,” he told the group. “Establish a base, go on to Mars and then to Alpha Centauri.”

And she felt, in her heart, that there was a sun far distant in our galaxy, far behind earth’s sun. That sun had, a long time ago, released a bit of ash into the universe. And Riley believed that that bit of ash drifted across the galaxy and settled in her lung one night when she took in a deep breath of cool night air. That speck unites her with the far-flung regions of the universe. Connects her to a power that is so far beyond her understanding. So far beyond her capacity to see. And yet she knows she herself is a speck in that universe. She too emits parts of herself when she exhales. She shares those life specks with those around her, with those perhaps miles away, generations away.

The power of the universe. 

A gentle knock and the door opened. “Ms. MacLean,” the doctor said, “thank you for your patience. A medical emergency this morning set us behind.”

Riley nodded.

The doctor sat, opened his laptop. He glanced at the screen. Smiled. Looked her in the eye. 

“No cancer.”

Riley believed in the healing power of the universe.