Reflections of a Shrinking Man

Reflections of a Shrinking Man February 21, 2024

Incredible Shrinking Man
Theatrical Release Poster






I’ve mentioned on this blog before how I consider my first education to have come from Science Fiction. Among the authors who touched me is Richard Matheson.

Richard Burton Matheson was born New Jersey in 1926. His parents divorced when he was eight. His mother took him to live in Brooklyn, where he was raised. Matheson graduated High School in time to serve in the Army during the Second World War. The GI bill allowed him to earn a BA in journalism from the University of Missouri. Matheson married Ruth Ann Woodson, and they had four children. He had a long and successful career as a writer. Matheson died in 2013, in California.

He’s no doubt most famous for I Am Legend, which has been made into films, I believe, at least three times, maybe four. He wrote for television, including nineteen scripts for the Twilight Zone.

Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, among  many others, credit Matheson as a creative influence. Roger Ebert wrote how his scientific style “anticipated pseudorealistic fantasy novels like Rosemary’s Baby and the Exorcist.”

His natal faith was Christian Science. As an adult Matheson was interested in what I might consider the general New Age territory, with an emphasis, in his own words, on “parapsychology, metaphysics and the supernatural.” He acknowledged the influences of Emanuel Swedenborg and particularly the Theosophist Harold W. Percival. Matheson’s novel the Path was based largely on Percival’s Thinking and Destiny.

The important thing here for me was his book and the film of the Incredible Shrinking Man. It came out in 1957, when I was nine years old. However, it was reissued theatrically in 1964. I was sixteen, and I saw it.

The principal character is on a boat which passes through a mysterious fog. After which he starts shrinking.

I liked the movie. But I was captured by the concluding monologue. My spirituality was in the midst of a major shift from my fundamentalist Christian upbringing. I was still a ways away from finding Buddhism, but I had discovered Hinduism. So, maybe I was ripe.

I felt some great truth was whispered into my heart.

And while the precise language was lost to me, the feeling sense never left me.

Eventually I found the text. And, well. Here it is.

The principal character’s concluding monologue.

So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet – like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!

Now I think zero isn’t a bad term, either. And, well, maybe zero is God.

With that small caveat I think Mr Matheson does a little pointing that many within the Zen world might find true. I do.

I did then. And I still do…

I am now of an age where among other loses, I am physically shrinking. I think of Matheson and I enjoy the small joke of it.

That little film and book and its monologue offers a pretty powerful pointer to the way things are.

It reminds me that awakening is the common inheritance of our humanity, a gift from the world itself. Zen offers some clarity about the matter and maybe even more importantly some spiritual disciplines that can keep us on track should we find seeing into the heart of our lives something important. But, bottom line, bottom line, awakening belongs to all of us.

So. Much gratitude…


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