Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Why am I here?

I'm still not certain why I started this blog. I thought it was to talk about my late husband, henceforth known as The Golfer; to describe how I have dealt with becoming a widow and perhaps give hope to anyone faced with a similar situation. But once I got started, I got all existential instead.

Certainly, all our lives we seem to be searching for meaning and, as you undergo each new experience, your understanding (with any luck) deepens. I had decided that there probably wasn't a God five or six years ago; the death of The Golfer has not changed that belief. Mind you, there were times when it would have been lovely to have joined the ranks of the "he's only stepped out of the room" brigade. But if I had, I would have known I was deluding myself. Watching your better half die also makes your own mortality all too plain. Now that really is scary.

But many people have been there before me and some of them have written wise and reassuring things on the topic. There is something remarkably consoling about reading the words of a bloke who lived 2500 years ago and for them to be as fresh and relevant to you as they were when they were written. It's one of the best feelings when you read something and it's just exactly how you've been thinking. Damn! I love books! They let you make, albeit one-sided, friendships with wonderful, long-dead people. I feel that I know Socrates, Seneca, Samuel Butler, Albert Camus; that they could walk into the room and we would get on.

So I started the View from the Pond blog to talk about surviving bereavement but it is turning into a blog about surviving life...with some newts thrown in.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Albert and me

What I love about Albert Camus is his love of humanity and his love for life. When one first comes to the conclusion that there is probably (definitely?) no God it can be a somewhat bleak time. There are very good reasons why religions have repeatedly been created over the millenia. When things are going badly we want reassurance that things might be better some day, even if it's not until after we are dead; we like to think that the baddies will be punished and the good rewarded; most of all, we cannot bear the fact that we as individuals might cease to exist.

To become an atheist means accepting that none of that is going to happen - no rewards, no punishments, no afterlife, no more ME! It is hard but that doesn't mean it isn't true. Once I got used to the idea of my own mortality I became a calmer and even a happier person. More of that another day...

I love Camus because his love and empathy for humanity illuminates everything he writes. His writing is characterized by a stubbornness of spirit, a determination to overcome difficulties, not because life will be better for overcoming them but because there are no guarantees that it will. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Sisyphus' life will never get any better - that is guaranteed. The Gods have condemned him to push the huge boulder up a mountain for eternity. But Camus sees in Sisyphus the triumph of the human spirit over the petty and cruel punishments of the Gods. Knowing that there is no escape and no happy ending for him gives him the power of scorn over his fate.

I see so much in Camus' essay - far too much to even scratch the surface here - I'll write more another day. But Sisyphus is a symbol of what it is to be human in a meaningless universe; to be an existentialist. Once you know that life is short and cruel and random, once you know that there is no hope for a better life in the hereafter, you too become an absurd hero and you can laugh at whatever life throws at you

PS I have found some very interesting thoughts here - http://www.everythingispointless.com/search/label/albert%20camus

at the Everything is Pointless blog. Good stuff Louie!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

The puddock speaks

Well, I've been doing this for a week or so and I find I am enjoying it - might even stick at it. So I thought it was time I told you a bit about myself.

I am an atheist. I am widowed. Those two features shape everything I do. I was an atheist before my husband died but now that I am alone, the stark reality of atheism has made it a real challenge to find a way forward - I know he hasn't gone to a better place; I know I'm never going to see him again; my life as I planned it is over. And yet, atheism is the very thing that drives me on. When you believe that when you die, there is no more - that's it, end of the puddock's story - you make damn sure that every day is worth living.

So this blog is not about being widowed, at least not all the time. What it is about is the search for meaning in one's life in a meaningless universe - I am, I suppose, an existentialist, even though I am not absolutely clear what it means to be one. If there is one writer who is inspiring me at the moment it is Albert Camus, and I'll be exploring what he wrote about our search for a meaningful life in the next few months...and then telling you all about it here!

Friday, 27 July 2007

Are Newts the Wisest Beings?

I found newts in my pond. They don't talk much so I read up on them in order to understand them better. They are cold-blooded - a feature which always seems to put other animals at a distance from humans. But I read that being cold-blooded gives you the advantage that you do not need to eat so often; in other words, you do not need to spend so much of your time searching for food.

This gave me a wonderful image of these ancient creatures, sitting motionless at the bottom of ponds, not needing to eat much and having all that time to think instead. If you watch a newt for a while it is not the most exciting spectacle in the world. They don't move a lot - very little entertainment value. And yet, when you realise that evolution has given them all this free time with no shopping to do, no jostling at the newt supermarket, just the occasional tadpole swimming lucklessly past, you see them in an entirely new light.

Now when you see a soft green newt sitting motionless at the bottom of the pond you wonder what he is thinking about. Maybe newts have all the answers. They have been around on earth for so long, with nothing to do, that they must have cracked the mysteries of existence. Mustn't they?

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Philosophical Quote of the Day

"In the depths of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer"

- Albert Camus

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

My latest read

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold nights, the coldest being "a three dog night". This wonderful book tells, with delicacy and intelligence, what Abigail's life is like since her husband sustained a serious head injury after being knocked down. Her husband has to be cared for in hospital and Abigail lives alone now, with her beloved dogs, accepting the reality of her "three dog life", while still being wedded absolutely to Richard.

It is a long time since I have devoured a book in such a short space of time. There is no self-pity here, but plenty of humour and oodles of intelligence and a poetic rhythm to the text that is as nourishing as good food.

Richard's injuries are severe, he has lost his long-term memory, he is not always easy to be with. But with the loss of memory an innocence and straight-to-the-mark directness have emerged. Abigail obviously takes great delight in the luminous phrases that he comes out with and records them carefully:

"If I wasn't with you and we weren't getting food, the dark would envelop my soul" he says cheerfully as they are walking to his room one afternoon.

"I feel like a tent that wants to be a kite, tugging at my stakes" he says one day out of the blue.

Wonderful, miraculous, dazzling flashes from a man in darkness.

I picked up the book, attracted by the title. I read it because, as a widow, I am always looking for any insight I can get into how to live a decent life after your life plan is shot to hell and you are kicked out of the playground where the "normals" live. I am glad I found it.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Existential quote of the day

"A man is nothing else but the sum of his actions, he is nothing but what his life is."

Jean Paul Sartre

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Musings on a wet Sunday

It is summer in Scotland so it is wet and cold. Wet, cold Sundays - you've gotta love them. So many miserable childhood memories...

I've been spending today trying to decide what to do with my life. So many changes, so many factors, so many possible futures, it's difficult to choose. And the fear...fear of change, fear of stepping out of the comfort zone, fear of looking a fool, fear of being hurt...

And I've been thinking about my late husband. Imagining him watching the golf on the telly. The weekend of the British Open was sacrosanct for him. The remote control was sequestered along with the best seat in the lounge and he would lie with a steady supply of beer, entranced by the most boring sport on Earth, apart from motor sport of course. He loved it. I hated it. But I found myself watching the damn thing this afternoon and picturing him taking up his familiar place on the settee. Cried a little. Smiled more.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Day 1

New to this. Let's see how it goes...

The puddock has spoken.