By Harriet P. Gross
Do you believe in miracles? Did you ever?
I think all of us did when we were kids in Sunday school, learning the great stories of our early traditions. But most of us have come to the conclusion that the age of miracles ended with the Bible, and these days we have to settle for the little miracles that light up all of our lives — at least once in a while.
Not so for Paul Tobolowsky. He never really settled into disbelief. As a child, he fell in love with the story of the Burning Bush, and all his life was hoping for such a Moses-like miracle to happen to him.
Of course, it never did. But also of course, it already had! Dr. Tobolowsky, a retired physician, found the miracle inside himself — inside all of us — right where it had been since the start of time. The discovery came when he was in his 40s and happened upon a magazine article about the 18th-century French scientist Antoine Lavoisier.
Lavoisier discovered the process of respiration “which takes place in the cells of our body. The same process as the combustion that burns the wood in our fireplaces or creates a candle flame,” Tobolowsky writes. The intake of oxygen and food nutrients, plus the output of carbon dioxide, keeps our bodies perpetually “burning” at a near-normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
But Tobolowsky continues: “While the wood and the candle are consumed, we are not. This fire of life is transmitted from generation to generation, just as one candle can light another.… From the first time the spark of life entered the world, this flame has been transmitted to us.”
His conclusion? “Incredibly, I had found my Burning Bush, and it was me!”
“Think about the amazing truth,” he says, “that everything that ever happened in the history of the world resulted in your own life at this moment! Nothing is more miraculous than the true story of your life!”
Such forthright statements of revelation fill his newly published book, “Stardust Dancing: A Seeker’s Guide to the Miraculous.” Its intriguing cover mirrors the message inside: a faceless couple, dancing under a crescent moon on a surface that might be a bit of Planet Earth, and in the foreground what we’ve all come in recent years to recognize as the spiraling symbol of DNA.
What we call “ordinary life” is really the miraculous in disguise, Tobolowsky now believes. This realization transformed his life, fulfilling decades of waiting for a miracle of his very own. It also transformed his professional approach, as he shared this new insight with the many people he touched through his practice of internal medicine.
Now 66 and no longer in active medical practice, he has come to the same conclusions as those put forth by contemporary astrophysicist Brian Cox and BBC science writer Andrew Cohen, whom he references in his book: although each of us is granted only the briefest peek at our universe, for our lives are lived out in only a fraction of the universe’s existence, Tobolowsky writes, “The most astonishing wonder isn’t a star or a planet or a galaxy, it isn’t a thing at all — it’s a moment in time. And that time is now.”
Go even further back than Lavoisier to Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century philosopher who believed that, “Every human thought, like every speck of nature, is connected to all other things. … Human thought resembles the structure of the natural world.” Bruno made the same mental leap with ideas as the scientist Lavoisier did, two centuries later, with cells. Paul Tobolowsky has brought both concepts together, modernized, in his own very readable prose.
But even better than reading this book is to see him speak about it, earnestly and enthusiastically gesturing to put across his most important point: the Bush burns outside us, and inside us, and it is never consumed. We are each a part of that eternal miracle.