Ever Waxing, Ever Waning
When bagel is bigger than a pizza you can eat breakfast anytime!
In October of 1780 the islands of Barbados, Martinique, and St. Eustatius were commerce ports and melting pots for merchants, pirates, and military men flying many flags. They were a rich and interesting place to be at that time, full of life and intrigue. A day passed and they were practically wiped out. A swirling atmospheric disturbance that came to be known as "The Great Hurricane of 1780" rolled over the idyllic islands and almost completely scoured them clean of civilization. Weeks earlier the hurricane had not existed. It had coalesced from mixing air currents, unknown and invisible to those simpler times, and it had smashed down like a great hammer. More than 20,000 people died. Most were simply washed out to sea by the tidal surges and flooding. Ships were dashed to kindling and hundreds sunk with their vessels.
Days later the great hurricane unwound itself. It disappeared and churned no more. In November the Great Hurricane of 1780 did not menace a coast or appear darkly on the horizon as a hateful shape in the sky. It was gone and its remnants scattered back into the currents of air that circulate constantly above our heads. The physical components and forces of the hurricane will always be there. What the hurricane was has been determined solely by how it is remembered. How it smashed across those islands and took 20,000 lives with it.
The Great Hurricane struck many generations ago and no one is alive today who saw the destruction it caused. Images and accounts of the havoc exist and by reading the preceding paragraphs you have just become a modern witness to its legacy. The hurricane itself is more real and more important than any individual person dead on that island. And why shouldn't it be? None of them killed 20,000 people.
Even though they are insignificant when compared to the hurricane many of those who died are probably still blessed by their demise. They appear on casualty lists. Shipping insurance companies keep tallies on the ships lost and an inquiring mind could find the crew roster next to "lost at sea". References to the incident will survive as footnotes in genealogies for perhaps many hundreds of years. Most of us should be so lucky.
"Self worth" is for most a lie used by psychologists and councilors to keep you from contemplating your real value to mankind. Those who actually have self worth are those confident in the lasting impression they will make on the world. They feel sure of the indelible, invisible footprint of their great surging hurricane of life. They will cure cancer. They will become the President. They will rape and murder their way across Southern California.
During the course of the average human's lifespan our bodies riot through 780 generations of cells. That means that each of us is literally remade anew almost once a month. The person you were six weeks earlier has died, sloughed off, decayed, or been cannibalized for parts. In his place is someone new, someone who looks pretty much the same. What tells you who you are? It's the crackling of memories in your neurons. The nebulous sea of what you were that inhabits your skull, electrical relics sizzling across neural pathways, old things left behind by the last administration. That gradual death and rebirth you are experiencing goes by unheeded because of that great mnemonic monolith of your life. The stone in the midst of the stream changes slowly but the water never passes by twice.
We are an accretion of memories and deeds perceived by others. We die every month and eventually that great rock will crumble and sink or some cataclysm will stop our heart or silence our breath. The logistics of our cells will collapse like an encircled army and they will perish for the last time. Then we will be carried on by those without. Self worth will be shown for the lie it is as we disappear into a forgotten grave or soar above the crowd on fame or infamy. Our body will rot and be fodder for vermin or smoke and ash in the sky.
I was going through boxes recently and a came across a personal treasure trove of old papers, most of them not even mine. Amid yellowed notebooks, typewritten papers, and photographs I found a handwritten and untitled poem by a British soldier of unknown name and rank.
I met a little French Girl lying in a ditch,
Hair of gold and cheeks aflame,
To kiss her would be rich.
She was headed 'round the corner,
A rush to catch the ferry,
My bullet went and found her,
Instead of finding Jerry.
I left a little French Girl lying in a ditch,
Eyes of glass and lips agape,
To hold her would be rich.
I was headed for the corner,
A rush to push back Jerry,
My bullet went and found her,
And she did not catch the ferry.
Perhaps not the best of poems, perhaps not even based on real events, but it doesn't matter to me. The French Girl, real or not, will likely live on for some time in that electrical storm of my brain. Her hurricane spun itself apart in one terrible instant and there is her footprint on yellowed paper, her witnessed death infused with more meaning than every moment leading up to it. If she wasn't real it only becomes more terrible. Her imagined death is remembered and those of real people forgotten. More false water in the stream of human existence.