Why I was a Gotham Skeptic

I sat on the subway today hastily running from the classes I taught in the morning to the class in which I would take my final exam. I love riding the subway, especially in the middle of the day when the train is crowded, not quite rush hour but, standing room only.  There is a vibration, almost like a harmony, in the way people flow in and out of a crowded subway car.  One can always spot the tourist; the klutz at the dance.

I arrived at Penn Station. We spilled out of the train, down the stairs, as if choreographed, and then up onto the street. I walked across 34th street, headed east towards 6th Avenue. It was mid-afternoon, the streets were filled, but not clogged, with holiday shoppers. I stopped and looked up at the Empire State Building.

I had been thinking since first receiving word that the Gotham Skeptic was going offline what I would write as a final piece. And as I stood there, I felt dwarfed by the enormity of New York; tiny. I then tried to imagine how truly small I am in the universe. It’s difficult, really, to picture just how contextually microscopic all of us are, or conversely, the enormity of the universe itself. It was challenging to do, as I paused there, undoubtedly in someone’s way, for that moment. But the difficulty I experienced revealed something rather surprising, something I hadn’t considered.

I couldn’t truly imagine how small I am, because I didn’t feel that small. I feel large, as large as the universe; I felt connected to everything around me.

Nonbelievers, like myself, are all too often robbed of such a spiritual experience. Feeling connected as I did, as I do, in the fluttering and orderly chaos of midtown Manhattan,  is a feeling more often ascribed to the person who believes there are unseen forces that bind us all.  The lovers of science, the fact seekers, reference checkers, testers of hypotheses, the skeptics, we all have the ability (if perhaps not always the inclination) to explore the many ways in which we are in actuality connected. From the journey across the synapse to our voyages in space, science uncovers the truth of the spectacular nature of humanity. To put it bluntly, the pursuit of science is far more spiritual a quest than anything taught in scripture.

Being a skeptic, a nonbeliever, even in a city like New York, I found myself constantly in conversation with those who would most likely prefer to interpret the experience I described as other worldly, perhaps even religious. I know of many that might suggest that some force was reaching out to me. I have had quite serious interactions with quite serious individuals who aimed to convince me, for example, that a strange dream was a message from an invisible being (usually male) that wanted me to direct my wayward soul towards the proverbial light. However dearly I might love such individuals, it can be exhausting and very lonely.

Things changed, however, when I found there were others like me; when I found the New York City Skeptics. The broader skeptical movement was at first an exciting discovery, and it remains important to me, but a local skeptical group held promise for the possibility I had been seeking: connection. Yes, we skeptics aren’t the most cohesive bunch, but we are a community.

Bring us your incredulous; your unflinchingly wayward masses. The heretics, the unconvinced, the inquisitive. Send these, the often cantankerous, unto us.

And so I stood there, surrounded by innovation, many thousands of generations since first we were us all a primordial soup, and I felt what I can only imagine to be blessed. Blessed to be a skeptic, and to have found my kin. Blessed to know all that I know, and blessed to be eager to learn that which I do not.

Writing for the Gotham Skeptic for the time that I have, while often laborious, has provided me with a sense of belonging I previously did not think possible. More so, the people I have met, the discussions I have had, the sheer value of these interactions is incalculable. And while I didn’t write as often as I would have liked – my time is incessantly consumed in service of larger and broader personal goals – I read. I have enjoyed being a part of this conversation.

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