November 29, 2012

A Reflection on Thanksgiving: Disruption, Adjacency, Opa!


Our bodies can be broken down to its separate, distinct parts, whether those parts are anatomical, biological, chemical, or mathematical. George Starr, Sr. (left) cherished these scientific lenses. He was the father of a very dear friend—George Starr, Jr.

Starr, Sr. passed away just before Thanksgiving. One’s passage from Earth defies timing. It’s always disruptive. But disruption is a concept that I assume Starr, Sr. appreciated.



For the memorial service, I took the Metra train from Union Station in Chicago to Franklin Park, Illinois. The Metra conductor immediately commands respect with his marked hat, blue uniform, and thick belt, which is sometimes equipped with a coin organizer. My ticket was dutifully punched with holes, as the double-decked train moved forward—a formidable machine rolling on resilient beams.

“The only reason for time is so that everything
doesn’t happen at once.”
—Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist

The memorial’s location was close to the Metra train station. In mathematics, adjacency refers to graphs composed of points of intersection (nodes). Adjacent to Starr, Sr. and his casket was a table covered with objects. Panning from left to right, I saw theoretical physicist Richard Feynman adjacent to a calculus calculator, a Chicago Cubs hat adjacent to author Isaac Asimov, a tool tray adjacent to a U.S. Army National Guard manual, computer programming books adjacent to classical music sheets. If a mind map were transposed on this spread, important worlds—mysterious and mutual—attracted Starr, Sr. throughout his years. He pursued his many interests, for the nth time.

“… Nuclear fusion makes stars to shine,
Tropisms make the ivy twine …”
—Isaac Asimov, Author and Teacher of Biochemistry

A tropism describes an organism that is responsive to its environment. When the environment stimulates, the organism responds. Starr, Sr.’s possessions matched a curious attention span, stretched out as a series of nodes: points of intersection seeding more points of intersection. The influential imprint on his son was an environmental exchange.


While observing the scene of Starr, Sr.’s memorial, I overheard someone say, “… he was into making cars and engines … .”



The next day, I took the Metra to River Grove, Illinois, to attend the burial. River Grove is the stop before Franklin Park. Each stop brackets the cemetery, whose Western corner was where the memorial service was held the day before. On the day of the burial, the opposite corner of the cemetery was the location. Adjacency yet again.

There was the hum of the train’s engine drone. The sound of the Metra conductor’s hole puncher was like a piano key producing a note, touched and gone.


The atmosphere switched to an adagio pace. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 is known as the Moonlight Sonata. It played throughout Starr, Sr.’s memorial: a romantic loop, pecking his closed casket, connecting the spaces in between visitors. The first edition of the score, published in 1802, had the heading of “Sonata quasi una fantasia”— sonata in the manner of a fantasy.


As Starr, Sr. was lowered into the ground, the melody of Taps was channeled from when a military veteran played it during the memorial service. A cargo train starting passing nearby, adjacent to a river route, the cemetery’s natural boundary. This triangulation coincided with the Pastor’s acknowledgement of Starr, Sr.’s fascination with “mathematical computations.” The Pastor offered an algorithm: he encouraged everyone to persist with “what George Starr, Sr. is to you.”


Disruption, revisited

There is another angle to disruption. Besides interruption, disruption agitates, particularly in subtle ways, when change and potential intersect. The Pastor’s encouragement to carry on with the composite of my friend’s Father was an invitation to have Starr, Sr. be an interactive part of our environment—in mathematical terms, an element in our set.

At the get-together at a Greek restaurant, lunch began with a familiar sound. Whether it relates to “Oops” or  “Cheers,” it is a collective shout—to essentially pay attention: Opa!

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Photos by Nate Burgos.