Illumine the whole of time

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Depending on how you look at it, nothing is inevitable, or everything is. Inevitably, we have a certain amount of time. But how we spend that time, how we illuminate our lives and those of others, is not inevitable. You have a choice.

There is only one thing that is guaranteed to happen in the life of every person you see today. And, if you are lucky enough to see tomorrow, that will be guaranteed to happen to every person you see tomorrow. Life is what happens in the meantime. We all of us must do all we can to make that meantime as good as possible for others, and for ourselves.

A 2010 blog post from Scott Berkun (which I came across via one of his tweets the other day), expresses this better than I ever could:

“Time is the singular measure of life. It’s one of the few things you cannot get more of. Knowing how to spend it well is possibly the most important skill you can have.”

Gentle reader, you know this already, I am sure, but knowing love, loving, and making others feel loved is the best way to spend your own measure of time. From the fantastic novel Adolphe, by Benjamin Constant:

“Love is only a single speck of light, yet it seems to illumine the whole of time. A few days ago it did not exist, and soon it will have ceased to be, but so long as it does exist it sheds its radiance upon the time which has preceded it as upon that which is to come.”

Writes like a dream
Love is not guaranteed to happen to (if love is something that can happen to you; I’d like to think it is) every person you see today, tomorrow, next week. But love can be shared. Love can be learnt.

I love that following recent talk of handwriting one’s tweets, my friend Nicky procured a new fountain pen. And this is the first product of that new fountain pen that she chose to share with the world:

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Love can illumine the whole of time, but love isn’t inevitable.

I’m starting a war for peace
I’ve been thinking a lot about what is inevitable. A few weeks back, I had the privilege to go to the theatre for the first time in my (admittedly rather lengthy, by this point) life, with my friend Kate Griffiths-Lambeth and her son, Hamish. I loved it. I was very lucky that my first exposure to the theatre was probably as good as it could get: the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Oppenheimer.  Kate’s blogged quite brilliantly about the play.

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The play explores Robert Oppenheimer’s life, his work, his ideas and thought processes, and how all of these lead to his work on the Manhattan Project (developing the atomic bomb) during World War II, which in turn made inevitable the loss of thousands of souls in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Does conceiving the idea of the atom bomb make its realisation and therefore its use inevitable? Oppenheimer believes this is the case. He believes that if he sees the inevitability of the atom bomb, then Heisenberg – his German counterpart and superior in matters scientific – must inevitably be pursuing the same idea on Hitler’s behalf. Oppenheimer concludes, and is able to convince the US armed forces, that America must beat Germany to the atom bomb.

But as the Manhattan Project reaches an advanced stage, and as the tide turns in the allies’ favour in the war in Europe, espionage reveals that Heisenberg is not working on an atom bomb at all, but on atomic power plants to fuel the thousand-year Reich.

Oppenheimer’s views on the inevitability of the atom bomb shift and intensify. Even if Germany does not have the atom bomb, it must still be deployed before time runs out in this war. Otherwise, the next war to befall the planet will take the first use of atomic weapons as its starting point, making the end of all life inevitable.

This is fiendishly twisted, contradictory logic. It reminds me of the seconds-long Monty Python micro-sketch in which Eric Idle as John Lennon says to camera: “I’m starting a war for peace.” (You can see this moment at 3.27 in the Crackpot Religions sketch).

Oppenheimer, as you might expect, was more than a little troubled by the implications of what he had brought into the world, what he had created and destroyed.

What happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki illumines our times.

What was Oppenheimer’s achievement? As another Heisenberg said* (quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley):

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”

For each of us, only one thing is inevitable. Life is what happens in the meantime. Do all you can to make that meantime as good as it can be for others and for yourself.

* Footnotes… and a micro competition!

  • The image at the top of this post is a still from the Breaking Bad Ozymandias trailer (the full version of which is embedded above). I make absolutely no claim to the copyright for this image, and will remove it from this post immediately should I be required to. And should you not yet have seen a moment of Breaking Bad, please, please procure it and watch it at your soonest opportunity.
  • I would also like to propose a micro competition. If you can tell me (without googlage) one or more of the factors that link the Oppenheimer play, Breaking Bad and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel meisterwerk Watchmen, please do get in touch. We have much to discuss. You never know, I might even think of a micro prize (or not).

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