As I have said before, when I am brave enough I am an atheist, which I find little enough comfort in life asking, as it does, all the big questions of the universe and everything. It’s a system I sometimes find frankly terrifying in the face of death.
So I read physics at a pop level and take comfort in the idea that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed, and that the particles that make everything were equally created and remain so until the next Big Bang, or whatever.
And, bearing in mind man’s awareness of his own finitude, I think about the meaning that we make for ourselves, through our relations to others and the planet, whilst we shuffle about the coil. I can’t deny it’s a tiring meditation and there aren’t a lot of laughs; not least because there aren’t a lot of people who want to engage at this level to leaven the loaf.
But none of that means it’s not worth doing. However, on a morning like today, when we have lost four men in Gleision Colliery in Wales, men mining coal to meet one of our most basic needs: warmth, it seems merely self-indulgent and pointless.
I am grateful then, this morning, to have ended up reading an online journal entry by someone who clearly is engaged with the bigger questions of existence and ensuing lack thereof; it’s an authentic piece by Robert Ebert, a Pulitzer prize winning film critic who has come close to death during treatment for cancer.
You can read Ebert’s original superb piece here, the page takes a while to load so another here.
I don’t mind saying it’s been a ray of light for me, after all, who could be more qualified to review life and certain death than a film critic?
There’s some text Ebert refers to, attributed to a letter by Vincent Van Gogh, that resonated strongly with me. Van Gogh is one of my favourite artists and that’s a funny sort of thing to write because I by no means appreciate all of Van Gogh’s works… in fact I can’t stand the reproductions of the Sunflowers. But I am always moved by the energy that surges from his canvasses when you stand close to them and, like Ebert writes that his wife sensed his own heartbeat when the medics couldn’t find it during one emergency, so you can still sense Vincent’s in the pen and the brush.
Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age, would be to go there on foot.
First Law of Thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed
I am in danger of turning into one of those opinionated little gits that I so detest on the radio. I am going to stop it right there as it is entirely unproductive and not a little draining.
Instead enjoy an extract from a letter wot Vincent wrote to his his sister Willemien in 1887 – seems like sound advice to me.
“…to write a book, to perform a deed, to make a painting with life in it, one must be a living person oneself. And so for you, unless you never want to progress, studying is very much a side issue. Enjoy yourself as much as you can and have as many distractions as you can, and be aware that what people want in art nowadays has to be very lively, with strong colour, very intense. So intensify your own health and strength and life a little, that’s the best study.”
The full version and the others can be read at http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let574/letter.html
– that made me shiver:
The publicity about the new Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy. This is notable for the 35 letters written by Van Gogh that will be shown alongside his art. For those of us, like me, too greedy to wait until we get to the RA transcripts of them are available here
Sir David Attenborough’s description of a chopping tool used about 2 million years ago. The object and his description are beautiful and both can be seen and heard here
– that made me shudder:
The wife who let her lecturer husband out into the academic world in trousers just the wrong side of too short. He was a nice man and deserved better. Perhaps she is having an affair, or maybe she just no longer looks at her husband.
The woman who crashed into a brick wall on a three lane carriageway near the Olympic park when her steering went and had to be pulled out of the wreck by my other and doubtless better half who (and this is a double-edged sword) had no thought for his own safety as he rescued her.