We are all pieces of a jigsaw and without each other there is no full picture, no complete life, just fragments. I was reminded of this when I was talking to R. on the phone a few weeks back and we were sharing stories about H. who had just died. We each talked about how she made our lives more interesting, rounded, better. R. said something to me that stopped me in my tracks. The gist of it was that we ought to take a moment of stillness to appreciate – really appreciate – all of those people who impact our lives and think about what it would be like if they weren’t here. We are like Giant’s Causeway stones, millions of us all fit together to form something spectacular and mind blowing. Our corners rub against each other, causing friction from time to time, but those are such temporary irritations in the whole big life project.
Part of the whole big life project is exploration. Exploring opens our mind, widens horizons, gives a sense of perspective, and, hopefully, makes us appreciate each other. We are drawn to explore the seas, the mountains, the deserts, and the final frontier – space. America is talking about funding a new lunar mission, sending up a crew after a gap of 45 years. I was listening to a story about it on the radio yesterday. It included an interview with astronaut, Alan Bean, the fourth of only twelve men to have walked on the moon. He is 85 years old now, and, driven to find out more about him, I listened to a lecture of his online. In the lecture he kept referring to earth as ‘paradise’. He told us that for some of the astronauts there was a spiritual aspect to the Apollo missions, that it gave them a new and profound way of viewing the earth. “From the distance of the moon you can put your thumb up and hide the earth from behind your thumb – shows how insignificant we all are. When I got home I would go round shopping centres, get an ice-cream and watch the people go by – we are living in the Garden of Eden!” He said he was overwhelmed by the fact that – as far as we know – we hold a unique place in the universe and he is so grateful to be an earth dweller! Another of the moon walkers, Mike Collins (now deceased), said that instead of the ex-military, Apollo should have sent writers and poets to the moon in order to bring back the profound messages. Well, I think Alan Bean is pretty close.
Whether Apollo was the first step in lunar exploration or was a moment in time, is unclear. We have the technology to go back, but do we have the money? Is that what we want to be using our new technology for? Is there anything out there to connect with? Maybe we should be focussing our efforts on better connecting on earth before we connect with outer space. Technology makes it easier to stay connected these days with skype, whatsapp, viber, facebook, twitter, instagram; but how can we stop from feeling that online connections can sometimes leave only a superficial dent as opposed to a meaningful impression? I get the sense that some peoples’ instagram feeds are more imaginary than Spielberg’s E.T. that I watch every Christmas.
For fear of sounding like a curmudgeon, though, not all technology is superficial, far from it. I received a voice message from S. via whatsapp at the weekend. A big, long, flowing, Joycean, detailed, newsy, nuanced, reflective, soliloquy of a message. I listened to it while sitting up in bed with a cup of tea and I was delighted. She was talking directly to me: no interruptions, no opportunity for come-backs, no counter-narrative, no chipping in, no ‘oh that reminds me of’ – just uninterrupted listening. And isn’t that a luxury? Both to receive the message and to be the thoughtful one who sits down and takes the time to talk into the phone, sharing things that are meaningful for you right now.
When you connect with others in the weeks to come, be as real and considered as you can in the space of technology you occupy. Be the reflective astronaut, looking back at the earth and blocking it out by holding up his thumb. Be the piece of the jigsaw that is you.