Tuesday, 3 March 2015

What Leonard Nimoy Believed

I remember being startled at a used bookstore somewhere outside of Fresno--not by the fact that I was actually at a used bookstore somewhere outside of Fresno, but by the fact that I had just seen what appeared to be a book of poetry by Leonard Nimoy. 

With Leonard's passing a few days ago, I was reminded of a poem that summed up what this remarkable man believed. It's a simple poem, but so was its message of belief in the good (you can also hear him read this poem here). 

I am an incurable romantic
I believe in hope, dreams and decency

          I believe in love,
          Tenderness and kindness.

I believe in mankind.

                    I believe in goodness,
                    Mercy and charity
                    I believe in a universal spirit
                    I believe in casting bread
                    Upon the waters.

                          I am awed by the snow-capped mountains
                          By the vastness of oceans.

                               I am moved by a couple
                               Of any age – holding hands
                               As they walk through city streets.

                    A living creature in pain
                    Makes me shudder with sorrow
                    A seagull’s cry fills me
                    With a sense of mystery.

                               A river or stream
                               Can move me to tears
                               A lake nestling in a valley
                               Can bring me peace.

I wish for all mankind
The sweet simple joy
That we have found together.

I know that it will be.
And we shall celebrate
We shall taste the wine
And the fruit.

Celebrate the sunset and the sunrise
               the cold and the warmth
               the sounds and the silences
               the voices of the children.

Celebrate the dreams and hopes
Which have filled the souls of
All decent men and women.

               We shall lift our glasses and toast
               With tears of joy.

Leonard--thank you for not only believing in goodness, but for creating and fostering goodness in the world (and for having one of the most meaning-laden raised eyebrows in recorded history).

Monday, 2 March 2015

Angelic and Demonic Choices

I just finished reading Good Omens by Terry Pratchet (who just passed away today) and Neil Gaiman, and as entertaining as it was, there were also moments of profound insight (I think it would be difficult to deal with heaven and hell for so long and not arrive at brilliant truths sooner or later). 

In this story, an angel and a demon are working together to prevent the apocalypse from happening, because they enjoy the world too much. These two are sometimes at odds with religious zealots from both ends of the spectrum, and as the demon considers how much control heaven and hell really have on people, he reflects: 
All you needed to become a Satanist was an effort of will...[In fact,] some of the old style Satanists tended, in fact, to be quite nice people. They mouthed the words and went through the motions, just like the people they thought of as their opposite numbers, and then went home and lived lives of mild unassuming mediocrity for the rest of the week with never an unusually evil thought in their heads.

And as for the rest of it...There were people who called themselves Satanists who made [the demon] squirm. It wasn't just the things they did, it was the way they blamed it all on Hell. They'd come up with some stomach churning idea that no demon could have thought of in a thousand years, some dark and mindless unpleasantness that only a fully functioning human brain could conceive, then shout "The Devil Made Me Do It" and get the sympathy of the court when the whole point was that the Devil hardly ever made anyone do anything. He didn't have to.

That was what some humans found hard to understand. Hell wasn't a major reservoir of evil, any more than Heaven, in [the demon’s] opinion, was a fountain of goodness; they were just sides in the great cosmic chess game. Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart stopping evil, was right inside the human mind.
I really like this idea of the human mind’s creative potential—not only for terrorizing evil, but also for beatific good. This point is affirmed elsewhere:
It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.
There you have it—the sort of world we live in depends on people like you and me, and what we choose to do with the building blocks of our life. Will we build dungeons and fortresses, or will we build nurseries and cathedrals?

The Casting of the Rebel Angels into Hell by William Blake (1808)
Only heaven (and probably hell, too) knows.