For little Cas, whose story wasn’t long enough.
Maybe stories are what drive this world. They are how our curiosities are fed as children; how we’re taught to remember things; our means to learn about other people; the system of knowledge accumulated by a culture over time. Moreover, they’re at the root of our thirst to explain the inexplicable: an obvious example being creation stories. The depiction of Adam and Eve, whether taken literally or metaphorically, contains imagery that forms the basis of art and fiction over centuries. I really like the Chinese myth about Pangu, born from an egg; the halves of which became the heavens and the Earth. And Quetzacoatl, the feathered serpent described by the Aztecs and the Mayans; and the elaborate origins given by Ancient Greek mythology, along with the idea of the Earth spawning from the void state Chaos. They’re colourful and beautiful and hold the essence of things that we just can’t know – the latter being paradoxically satisfying. Why should we be capable of understanding the Universe, or even the world around us? Take infinity, for instance: we can utilise it as a concept within mathematics, and even include it in definitions, but trying to visualise infinity is something the human brain was not designed for.
That line of thought might be stupid, illogical, or completely wrong. I have no idea; and clearly this has all been discussed before, many times over, by people with far greater powers of reasoning. Yet contemplating it never gets boring, in the same way that it is rarely tiring to sink into someone else’s view of the world through whichever medium they choose to portray it. (Of course, it can be stimulating to watch Sesame Street for hours at age three; and much less so in later years.) Anyway, there are so many depths to choose from: into a person’s mind, into the vastness of space, into the emptiness within an atom. Any direction somehow seems to be deeper. Another C.S. Lewis quote seems appropriate, this one from The Last Battle: “This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now … Come further up, come further in!” Or perhaps more to the point: “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.” Religion brings out a lot of interesting perspectives.
The reason this has been on my mind recently is that I’ve been wondering whether, as beings living on this planet, we have some kind of obligation to obtain a story of our own. To use a cliché: experiencing life to the fullest. There is a kind of self-importance that comes along with this sentiment, which is something I find fairly repulsive about the human state of mind. I think it’s my least favourite vice; especially since we have substantial evidence for our not being at the centre of the Universe – naturally, I favour the vices I adhere to most; and luckily there are many of these. There is a balance I’m trying to realise, between wanting to scale as many countries and cultures and landscapes as possible without leaving an imprint, and the responsibility to add to a positive force in our environment. The first of these is more appealing, personally, similar to invisibility being an attractive superpower; but also more selfish. All the same, it is arguably better to succeed at a neutral position than to attempt an altruistic one ending in an undesirable result and a jaded mindset.
Meanwhile at the finca, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ seems to become more true every day. A point came several months ago when my default stopped being ‘home’. When Coldplay’s lyric “lights will guide you home” took on a new poignancy; and home started to raise its head, not as the place where one starts their journey, but rather where they belong. When the transplant shock, as the current pair of volunteers would refer to it, had worn off. Are we predisposed to this adjustment? It would be nice to believe that “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”, a quote from Stephen Hawking, were true. Our little lamb Cassidy didn’t make it through the transition to a new environment, while his companion is thriving; but that was due to factors outside of his control. For those of us who can choose our situation, is it a perceived entitlement to a place in our surroundings that makes it easier to alter accordingly, or the opposite? Many of us love being able to cram our belongings into a backpack at short notice and to move on without looking back, while others, sometimes with a more secure notion of their place in society, have no inclination to do so. The struggle between restlessness and complacency, both of which contribute to the need to keep on up-and-leaving, is never-ending and always at hand.
Returning to the Chronicles of Narnia theme; the best books are the ones with the most in them, and not in terms of length: “Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with it’s own rivers and woods and sea and mountains”. The ones that lift you out of boredom and lethargy, into somewhere you can build uniquely in your mind and traverse in as much depth as reality. Even, as I’ve mentioned in an indirect way previously, initiate the search for places equally sublime and more accessible to the senses – whether on reaching them we feel belonging, or the awe of an observer. I hope that at some point over the next year I’ll come across some good stories. My experience of Latin America so far has been predominantly from ex-pats; but as my Spanish improves I’d like to become a less distant foreigner. Further up and further in.