An Extraordinarily Ordinary Life

I read and re-read and read out this paragraph in the book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking.

“I have led an extraordinary life on this life on this planet, while at the same time traveling across the universe by using my mind and the laws of physics. I have been to the furthest reaches of our galaxy, travelled back into a black hole and gone back to the beginning of time. On Earth, I have experienced highs and lows, turbulence and peace, success and suffering. I have been rich and poor, I have been able-bodied and disabled. I have been praised and criticized, but never ignored. I have been enormously privileged, through my work, in being able to contribute to our understanding of the universe. But it would be an empty universe indeed if it were not one the people I love, and who love me. Without them, the wonder of it all would be lost on me.”

This is one of the passages in the book by Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. The title is no empty boast, he really does take a stab at the big questions with the simplest language. The book’s forewords, and epilogue themselves make fascinating reading: A foreword by Eddie Redmayne who played Stephen Hawking in the movie based on his life, and Kip Thorne who worked with him at Caltech and one of the foremost players in the detection of gravitational waves (LIGO)

Related: Philosophers & Tinkerers

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Some questions:

  • Is there a God?
  • Is there other intelligent life in the Universe?
  • Will we survive on Earth?

He touches upon climate change (Related: A Planet of Wizards & Prophets), and whether we have any option but to colonize space. It is written in layman’s terms, which suited me quite well.

Regular readers know how much I enjoy looking up at the night skies. It is the time I come closest to stoicism. I shiver and wonder what is out there among the great distances. I happily contemplate on the vast empty distances between the stars. I ponder on time and how we are seeing things that are no longer exactly like that. How a serendipitous sequence of events enabled us to be there to contemplate this beautiful universe.

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Picture taken by a Friend – an amazing photographer

I marvel at our insignificance, I genuinely enjoy riding the thought sails through the night skies, and I look out the magic of it every chance I get. It is one of those times when I am in love with Being.

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Star Trails of the Milky Way Galaxy – Pic taken by my friend who is an amazing photographer among other things.

One of my friends on a nightly stroll with me once teased me that I will become a star when I pass on, and I laughed heartily. Her tone reminded me of how spoiled I am by my friends who indulgently put up with me as I moon about flowers, hills and stars.

It is extraordinary indeed that I should have read Brief Answers to the Big Questions so closely after I read this particularly fetching poem by Walt Whitman.

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer – By Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

It is even rarer that I find the perfect illustration to go along with it. But Rob Gonsalves in the book, Imagine A World is the perfect one (Related: A Touch of the Eternal):

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To me, the ability to enjoy these simple pleasures in an ordinary life constitutes an extraordinary one.

The Touch of the Eternal

The daughter came hurtling into the room bursting with something to share, her brother in quick pursuit. I was sprawled on my stomach across the bed surrounded by a bunch of books.  She looked surprised at finding me indoors instead of hustling people to come and enjoy the outdoors, and said “How come you aren’t flitting with the butterflies?” 

The skies were blue, the air pure, the trees outside looked splendid and inviting, the first shy cherry blossoms were peeping out, the first of my tulip shoots were making their way out of the ground much to my delight.

I snorted and said, that just because the day looks awesome outside does not mean that I have to ‘flit like a butterfly’. Besides, it was perfect Gluggavedur weather. (Gluggavedur is a delightful Icelandic word that signifies, ‘Window weather’ – beautiful from the inside, but too cold to go outside.)

I know I have yearned for the right word many times. (A word for the cool breeze that hits your face when you run down a mountain for instance: Zephyr Tales) This book, What a Wonderful Word, taps into that feeling with words from many cultures across the world.

Book: What a Wonderful Word – By Nicola Edwards & Luisa Uribe

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: I looked dignified and mature. It is done by setting the chin at an awkward angle, and giving the impression of one finding a skunk when one lifted the bushes to find a squirrel.

“A mature adult can do many things!” I said.

“Like reading children’s books?” said she.

I laughed hard and she joined in. Mature indeed! 

One time she found me doing Yoga with a beautiful Children’s book open, and checking out the illustrations from various angles. This act of whimsy earned me the loving and coveted label that teenagers award rarely, “You are SO weird! That is such a you-thing, why am I not even surprised?”

Much later when I read Upstream by Mary Oliver, I was glad to see that I was doing something right – the whimsical part at least.

“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” 

― Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Some of my favorite things to do is flip through children’s books. The illustrations on some of them made me admire the books on wholly different levels.

How an artist comes up with conceptualization, the drawings themselves, and the whole process that goes into making children’s books is amazing. Every book is a testament to creativity, teamwork, solidarity, the calling of the eternal, and so much more. When asked to critique a piece of Art, I would trip up on a few things like techniques, styles, brush strokes, paint colors, paint directions, canvas quality etc. But I can appreciate good Art when I see it, and describe it with the word, Beautiful.

I was book-flitting like butterflies, very happy with the set of books I was flitting through.

“See! See this book – how can people even conceptualize a piece like this? Hmm…what would we do without Children’s books?”

I was surprised she had no snarky comeback – it is seldom so. Blessed as she is with sharp wit, it is usually me that has Espirit D’Escalier episodes. I looked up, and saw her immersed in the beautiful drawing in the children’s book I showed her. She spends a good amount of her time doodling and definitely with more success than Yours Truly. 

Rob Gonsalves book, Imagine A World, was definitely mesmerizing. The almost seamless transitions within the Art that hid multiple layers and concepts was work of genius. A sample piece shown below  – you can also head on over to his site that has more Art work. 

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Rob Gonsalves work Book: Imagine a World

The book reminded me of Mary Oliver’s Quote:

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” 

― Mary Oliver

Magical Realism is Gonsalves’ speciality, and I am so glad to have picked up the book. It is easy to see the pictures over and over again – being immersed in them over again.

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I am the first to admit that I am no Art Critic, just a child admiring the work of artists whose touch of the eternal we are blessed to see. 

Also read: Dr Seuss’s Art