PC 42 Life and …….

Recently there have been headline-grabbing news items of madness …. bikers in Waco in the USA having a fight over ‘who ran over whose toe’ ….. and nine motorcyclists died! Or a family, husband, wife and housekeeper, gunned down and the house set on fire …… probably caused by someone ‘slighted’ in some way. A father in the Balkans not happy with whom his son had married, so he shot them all, the new wife and her parents. We seem so quick to take offence! The continuing barbarism of ISIS in the Middle East, in our C21st world, suggests that the human race has not developed and evolved as one would wish, that in a blink of an eye we can revert to the very basics in behaviour, as exemplified in the C13th and earlier. These headlines remind me how precious this life of ours, this existence, is and how we must try to live it to the full.

Do you remember that glorious television series “Life on Earth” by the indefatigable David Attenborough? There were many memorable pieces but one particular one has stayed with me, the life cycle of a fly on Lake Malawi. The eggs geminate on the lake bed, the larvae float to the surface, become adult, and rise up into the sky in such numbers that it looks like a cloud, or smoke from a fire, as there are billions of them. The females mate, the eggs fall to the lake surface and thence to the bottom, and the cycle starts again – apparently every month near the time of the new moon, such is the rhythm of some of nature’s wonders! The adults get eaten by birds – and their existence is over in a few hours!! Do you think they know? Know that their life, their existence, is measured in minutes ….. and in this short existence they have to mate, to ensure the longevity of the species? Or maybe for them, it feels like days/months/years – their perception of time is, well, their perception of time!

I imagine it’s only us humans who know that life is finite. Did the fly above Lake Malawi know? Did an oak tree know it would finally develop a disease, grow weak and fall to the ground? Did my lovely Labrador Tom, when his body began to pain him and he looked more mournful that normal? I don’t think so!

Babies certainly don’t as their focus is on the immediate needs of food and sleep. The young don’t care, don’t think, spending all their energies on growing, on learning and on living this exciting existence; and why not?! It’s only in middle age when you begin to think that time has come to matter …. and by the time your parents are both in another world, you really really know. It’s funny this feeling, as if there is no one ‘above you’. You start seeing obituaries of people you know …. and think “Oh! No!Not him/her, not yet, .. surely!”

I have a wonderful ‘Anthology of Great Lives’ culled from the obituary pages of a British newspaper; it’s a good book to leave in the loo. The editor has ensured that the stories of the lives who grace its pages are mirrored by the title, “Thinker, Failure, Soldier, Jailer” a nod to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor”! The people whose existence is written about certainly had a colourful time.

A chum encapsulated a thought beautifully the other day, walking above Brighton on the South Downs. “But we are intrigued as to what comes after death …… and we will never know!” he said, with a slight smile on his face. Various religions make cast-iron suggestions, describe a heaven with numerous virgins or pearly gates and someone welcoming you, or some vision of purgatory if you don’t follow this or that doctrine. There was that film ‘Flatliners’ in 1990 when a group of medical students tried to journey into the ‘afterlife’ and return ….. so they could tell everyone what it was like.

The insignificance of the human race in relation to the scale of space is mind-boggling. Have you heard how you could fit the entire global population into a sugar cube? Let me explain! We are all a mass of atoms; but each atom is formed of a nucleus and a spinning electron. In scale terms, if the nucleus was on the altar in the centre of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the electron could move from alongside it to up into the Whispering Gallery in the dome. Take all that space away within each atom, and between each atom, and …….. we could fit into a sugar cube. (Does anyone still use cube (loaf) sugar anymore?) Well, some nice nerds did some mathematical calculations on Goggle and reckoned that actually the cube would be about 72 cubic metres ie approximately 4x4x4 metres; an enormous sugar cube but the image of scale is easier to understand.

I guess we’ve all known friends or relatives whose existence has not been the biblical four score years and ten; in early adulthood, too soon, too young. My PC 22 observed this uncertainty of life. There is no certainty in the length of our existence ….. and how we cope with that uncertainty can colour our own existence here on this earth.

I must have seen it somewhere, sometime, a picture of God holding the Universe in the palm of his hand – sorry I’m being sexist here, thinking of an old man with a flowing beard, not a woman-God. He’s looking at it with a smile on his face as if he has a sense of humour – and why wouldn’t he? He could be looking within the universe at ….. a single sugar cube? And those who leave their existence, leave this sugar cube, are simply dust …… just like the seeds of a dandelion blown by the wind from his breath.

Mere musings at the start of our summer here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

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