October 14, 2012

A Frail Image

I was out golfing the other day and was walking to the 9th tee, which you reach by way of a path that cuts through a small grove of trees, when a hawk burst out of the dim light of the grove and flew right over my head on his way to a new perch or the next meal or whatever else it is that sets hawks in motion. I followed him across the open spaces of the fairways until it was lost amidst the trees bordering the 3rd fairway, where many a golf ball had found its final resting place, among them some of mine.

I looked around and could see no other golfer in sight. Insofar as I could tell, I was the only person to see the flight of that hawk. I thought about the old riddle about a tree falling, and if no one hears it falls did it really fall? I also thought about the uncertainty principle, which states that the act of observation determines the outcome. If I had not walked into that grove, would the hawk have taken flight anyway? Did our interaction produce a unique moment in time that otherwise would not have existed?

Okay, so maybe I'm over-thinking this. But I have thought from time-to-time about things that I have observed that no one else has seen and will ever see. The flight of a finch to my bird feeder. The way a cloud moves across the sky. The way the light glints off the dew on a leaf at a certain hour of the morning. All of us can say the same thing. We are all carrying within us a set of unique memories that no one else has.

One such memory haunts me. Years ago, I worked in downtown D.C. right across the street from where the Holocaust Museum was being built. I would walk by the site during my lunch-time walks. Every so often, I would notice a very odd pattern of light on the north face of the building. It looked very much like script written in Hebrew, or at least what I would imagine such script to look like. I saw it maybe three times and thought to myself each time that there was something going on here and that I really ought to take a picture of it.

This was in the days before cell phones, otherwise it would have been easy to take a picture. At any rate, I never did. I still see these figures in my mind's eye and wonder what they meant, for I am sure they did mean something. I may have been the only person who noticed those images fashioned from some interaction of sunlight and the surrounding terrain. Whatever it meant, the moment was lost. If I was to be a messenger, I failed in my mission.

What brought all this to mind was a quote I came across while reading a selection of Jorge Luis Borges' non-fiction writings. If you have never read anything by Borges, take the time to do so. The writing is dense with historical allusion, much of it having to do with Argentine history, but other pieces are timeless in their import and impact.
Things, events, that occupy space yet come to an end when someone dies make us stop in wonder--and yet one thing, or an infinite number of things, dies with every man's or woman's death, unless the universe itself has a memory, as the theosophists have suggested. In the course of time there was one day that closed the last eyes that had looked on Christ ... What will die with me the day I die? What pathetic or frail image will be lost to the world?

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