Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The Big Sleep
I have had computer problems despite supposedly being well protected. Everything ground to a halt a few days ago and the last escapee from its innards was the latest update of the book I am writing called Azimuth. The fact that it has taken me 8 years and is 600 pages long, added to the frisson of despair that attended my attempts to right the sinking ship. But this is Ghana and around the corner a fellow dived like a BP engineer off the Florida coast to where the wreckage of my data was spewing into the ether and rectified everything; data returned and all working properly again for the princely sum of seven pounds and fifty pence.
I have written often enough about entropy – how everything we do, no matter how exacting we are as task masters over our own destinies, gradually breaks down and chaos ensues and here was yet another example. Meanwhile, in parallel, I am watching quite an old but brilliant series called The Human Body, fronted by that genial doctor with the perfect mix of humility and curiosity, Robert Winston. If you have not seen it, please take this as a strong recommendation. It follows a journey through the life of human beings, from egg to dead. The science is fascinating and the lessons, extraordinary. I am at that age where much of the journey represents where I have come from until this moment. The last of all episodes deals with the death of a German in Eire. It is poignant, challenging and uplifting. The camera does not show his last breath but it is a pretty close run thing. He didn’t want the cancer drugs, preferring a slightly shorter life of greater quality than being hospitalised in an intiseptic, clinical environment. He was an atheist and somehow this added lustre to his struggle.
All of us have to face the final curtain, as the cliché goes but most of us want it to come down while we are asleep. I’d prefer to be awake and see it come down. Winston says that we cannot divulge what happens in the end-game, despite the thousands of near-misses that people have had – reporting tunnels of light with their loved ones waiting with outstretched arms. It turns out that even this is a trick of the mind. Astronauts on high speed simulators report the same illusion as they lose consciousness. If it is to be so private and personal that no-one will ever know how we moved from dead in our heads, then so be it. But it would be worth being awake. Our last lesson learnt as the brain ceases to function.
Then our atoms break free from the little force fields that held them in body colonies and are carried away in the universal tide. They were there from the beginning of time and have travelled through suns and planets and cold empty spaces all their existence. Nice that they spent a few brief flickering moments as part of a human life, don’t you think?
It’d be great to have someone take me, at the penultimate second of existence, round the corner and have all my data and processing restored for seven pounds fifty. But, since that day belongs to a genetic progeny of mine far into the future, I will be content to keep my eyes open until the last.