9th June 1990
Darkness…utter and complete…I am suspended in a void…no, I can feel something underneath me, I am lying on a rough surface, it seems broken, fragmented…what am I doing here?…I was standing in the open air a moment ago, and then…
The explosion! The thought blasts through my mind, like its originator, and suddenly I am alive again. I can feel a weight on top of me now as well, breathing is difficult, it feels like rubble. I try to sit up but the rubble will not move. Think, don’t panic! I lie still for an minute or two, breathing slowly, and then move my arms around, above my body, and push against the largest of the slabs on top of me, straining against the stone, and suddenly it moves a few inches, some gravel falls onto my chest, and I can see daylight only a few inches away.
A few minutes later, I am standing by the pile of rubble, panting and sweating heavily. I pause, gathering myself in preparation for what I know must come next. Then I raise my head. All around, stretching to the horizon, lies rubble, the flattened remains of a ruined city. My city. And I know for certain that I am the only person in the entire desolate stone wilderness, all that remains of a once proud city, of soaring palaces and humbler houses, filled with a throng of many lives contributing to its life. All annihilated in that one vast explosion, and which I must now rebuild.
I wonder whether there will be anything to salvage, but one glance at the wreckage convinces me that there will not. A wave of the hand, and the rubble is gone, and now I have the void, an empty plane stretching to a measureless distance. But what now? I have built so many different cities, and some have endured a season, and some centuries, but all have fallen in the end. There have been gardens and palaces, rivers and churches, concrete grids and small meandering streets. Such a diversity of creation, but none enduring, none eternal. I need a rock to cling to, to bring self into focus, to make the contrasts live again.
Some lines from a book I read long ago drift into my awareness:
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
My only judge is my environment. That is my quandary: I can ask others, but they can only give approbation to or dissent from my design: only time, and that which it brings can tell me whether I was right.
So, what now? I think that I will rest on this featureless plain, and contemplate for a while. Each time I fail, I become slower, more thoughtful. This time, I will choose even more carefully, as I sense that I approach my limit. Soon there will be no more choices.
I have mellowed, and my plans have started to converge recently, but there is still no goal in sight. I still do not know even whether I’m going in the right direction. I think therefore that the time has come for a fundamental reappraisal of where I think I’m going, and how I think I’m going to get there. What do I want, and how do I harmoniously fulfil these desires?
Many people have different answers to what it is they want from life: the unimaginative wealth, fame and power, the greedy everything, the sensible some small thing (sensible people recognize the enormous changes that can be wrought by small things), and a few, clearer seeing, individuals realise that they do not know exactly what they want, and attempt to define it. I place myself unhesitatingly among these few, and not through conceit: I am the sum of all my experiences, and I have learnt much during my long life. I realise now that I have tried to procrastinate this moment of self-searching, this instant with all its potential for racking changes, both good and bad, but it has finally come.
So, what do I want? In the end, the reality of ultimate uncertainty must be faced, and here I am, staring into nothingness. I want, this time, to raise such a city as shall never crumble, but shall stand firm as the vision of the New Jerusalem in eternal perfection.
Now I must examine, and question. Why perfection? Because it is the best solution. The best possible answer from among the myriad which await consideration in the wings of the mind. How does one decide what constitutes best? One examines all the solutions and compares them, on the basis of what will happen to the situation if they are employed, or, at least what you think will happen. I have a strange feeling about that reply, something is not quite right there…it is “what you think will happen”. The consequences of a solution are not immediately apparent: one can only reason from past trends and present data. I think this is leading somewhere: ah, yes: “present data”. The circumstances in which you find yourself. And surely, they can change: you can find yourself in different circumstances, as you cannot affect all possible causes with one solution. To do this, you would have to control the entire universe: you would have to be God. And if there are new circumstances, then there must be new problems, and that means new solutions, which means that perfection does not exist, because it is destroyed by my own impotence.
And this has answered another question unintentionally: if change is immanent in the universe then I do not need an eternal city: indeed, I cannot build an eternal city, since I do not know what the future will bring. This gladdens my heart, for I sensed something wrong with permanence, and now I realise what it was: a complete lack of surprise. I want to be able to see streets and vistas that I have never seen before, and now I have that chance again.
If not perfection, then what? How do I decide what is good and what is bad? On what do I base my quality judgements? Of course, quality. I decide whether something is good or bad by considering the quality of its qualities (a dangerous double meaning there). So then, what I want is quality. But quality will not last: I will always have to balance, so as to retain it: find new solutions to new problems.
Now, I think I almost have the answer, but I must combine its two halves. This obtains an endless search for quality, altering my responses to my changing environment. This fits well, as it is harmonious with a dynamic universe. Yes, I think that I can now build myself another city, free from the burden of perfection. I can see it now in my mind’s eye: towers, minarets, gardens; the same as before, yet not the same, now with a definite purpose, now with a true life, not fixed any more, but fluid.
Surely this is happiness.
This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.
Last updated 2013/01/01