|Una Chiesa a Garace, una bellissima citta' in Calabria|
We do like to fool ourselves into thinking that our words once written have some permanence. Or at least we like to believe that they are somewhat more permanent when written down that when merely uttered. The orator’s words may move us momentarily and then they just fade into the ether to be shortly forgotten. A written encomium may be somewhat more permanent than its oral counterpart. Or a snatch of a song that we hear or even sing is just that, a snatch of music that fades, even though somewhere in some musty drawer – or perhaps even in the corner of some virtual world - the sheet music exists. Thoughts come and go like their close relatives called feelings. Once again, they all fade into nothingness.
These thoughts written here could have been penned by Qoheleth, that great wisdom teacher of the Old Testament, who kept repeating “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” He was an existentialist before the word was invented. For him, life was just a fleeting moment in the infinity of time, a mere nanosecond in terms of the duration of the universe. When he saw humankind’s efforts to battle the inevitable constraints of life he just kept repeating the above sobering chorus: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
And so, I resume this journal of a soul after some eight or so months. In the interim I have been involved in writing other words elsewhere. Some few readers of this blog have asked me the reasons for the hiatus – well I just did not feel the need, given that I was writing elsewhere. However, these present thoughts were provoked by the sheer contingency of life. There is nothing as sobering as attending the funerals of friends and relatives. Nothing. Even philosophers and theologians baulk before the maw of death. The litany of recent bereavements runs: one friend’s son ended his life in his late twenties, two aunt’s “shuffled off this mortal coil,” one in her mid eighties and another in her late sixties, and then a colleague died from cancer after four excruciatingly painful years of suffering – and he some three years younger than the thinker or writer of these thoughts. And that leaves us with the big questions – What is life at all? What could possibly be its meaning? And mortality, what can it teach us?
Mortality teaches us the value of life, literally the value of everything. When you sit listening to a song sung by your favourite singer, the fact that he or she is mortal magnifies its significance to the nth degree. Art is art because it is produced by mortal hands, sung by mortal voices, composed by mortal minds and is inspired by mortal imagination. Mortality gives value to the fleeting enterprise of human hands and minds. The fact that Michelangelo or Goya or Leonardo da Vinci or more recently Francis Bacon is dead only adds to the value and significance of the work.
Then, when one reads about the silly attempts some humans make to prolong life beyond its reasonable limits, one wonders again about our significance, and not a little about the sanity of those who propose such an idea in the first place. Cryogenics is surely based on mere wishful thinking and sheer shallowness of insight. That some poor fools among us might think we are that important in the scheme of things is surely the funniest and most pathetic joke possible at one and the same time.
It appears to the present writer of these marshalled thoughts that we must avoid two extremes – that of inflating our importance on the one hand and that of deflating our significance on the other. We are the singers of songs, the composers of music, the writers of novels and poems, the creators of art in all its myriad forms and shapes, the builders of huge skyscrapers, bridges and roads that seek to shape our world to our needs. We are the thinkers of thoughts, the possessors of feelings which we express as wonderfully and in a way that is as aesthetically pleasing as we can. That we are dreamers of other worlds beyond our ken – mere pipe dreams or intimations of immortality none can tell – marks us out from our fellow animals. And yet does it matter at all? Does it really matter? Perhaps the meaning lies solely in the poem written, in the song sung, in the story told, in the project done, in the sweat expended to bring it about. Therein lies its value, made meaningful paradoxically by its sheer meaninglessness. Perhaps the only meaning we can find in this life is the living of it to the fullest extent possible, and in making it as tolerable as we can for all those we love and, indeed, for every inhabitant of this little world spinning in the immensity of indifferent space.