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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More on Mortality

I have a new love thanks to Yvonne over at Considering the Lilies:  Lessons from the Field.

It's called Brain Pickings, "a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are."  I read one post and I was hooked.  Extraordinary.

A link to this piece on their site called The Mortality Paradox, by Maria Popova, dropped fortuitously into my mailbox this week along with another to a recent commencement address by Joss Whedon.  

Popova's article is a wonderful essay about death and Stephen Cave's book,
Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization - a book that is now near the top of my to read list along with Christopher Hitchen's Mortality.

I really miss Hitchens.  He was one of my favorite writers in spite of (perhaps because of) the fact that I violently disagreed with him on many occasions.  A bonus for those of who believe in the afterlife (which Hitchens assuredly did not) is that death does not mean that the conversation is over.  I have a list of people I want to talk to when I pass on.  He, Andy Sundberg, and a few others are firmly on that list and I plan on tracking them down and asking them all the things I wanted to know but failed to ask in this life.

The Joss Whedon piece is well worth watching.  Telling the young, bright-eyed, students on the cusp of a new chapter of their life, "You are all going to die," take a great of audacity.  He is funny and deeply serious, all at the same time.  Not everyone can get away with that and keep his audience's attention.  

The part where he talks about honoring the dissent in yourself really struck a chord in me.  Humility has  really bad connotations in our world but it's worth taking a good hard look at it today.  I found that simply asking, "What if I'm wrong?"  broadens my world in a way that I would have found unimaginable a few years ago.  I became "teachable" when I stopped fighting that little voice inside me that was so at odds with the discussions going on around me.  I still feel strongly about things and I believe in fighting for what I think is important.  But as Whedon points out denying the connection, and questioning the humanity and basic goodness of people who disagree with you, isn't productive, closes doors and, for me, is a serious danger to my sobriety.

I don't want to live and die with an ossified beliefs, so entrenched in grumpy inflexibility that I deprive myself of all this world and the next has to offer.

Off to Paris today to connect with some fine people I know who I don't always agree with, but whom I've learned to love because they make my world wider.

Enjoy the video.


Ellen Lebelle said...

Victoria, you won't be seeing Andy Sundberg for a long, long time, I hope. In case I don't beat you to it, a big hello and thank you from me. I'm so sorry I never met him.

Rosy the Riveter said...

What a lovely, poetic, philosophical and stirring piece of writing, Victoria. Very well done ! Leaving for NYC, will come and see you when I get back. :-)

Anonymous said...

I also like Hitchens (although his Vanity Fair piece was more concise than mortality - assume you have Arguably his collection of essays). Humility is undervalued in today's celebrity and pundit culture but I think is a healthy antidote in so many areas.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Ellen, Me too. Andy and I had a short conversation via email and he gave me his number and told me to give him a call. I didn't because, hey, there was all the time in the world, right?

@Rosy, Have fun in New York. When you get back you can come over and we'll drink coffee and admire the garden.

@Andrew, I don't have Arguably. Another one to add to the booklist. I loved his Letters to a Young Contrarian.

About humility. I used to think that it meant abasement and taking abuse. I feared those things. And then someone passed along these bits of wisdom:

"No" is a complete sentence.
Any situation that is hurtful or unpleasant, you have the right to walk away from.
Restraint of pen and tongue means learning to listen. :-)