If you have come to my blog today for a light hearted and jovial account of my descent into pyjamas for the autumn (which is true, nonetheless) then the title of this post may disappoint you. I've been doing some thinking today prompted by the fact that I wore my 'funeral dress' - a black dress I wear for when I am Verger at funerals - today to see if I can legitimately style it for other occasions. This coupled with some unexpected philosophising as a result of reading some chick lit (yes you read that right!) has made me ponder deeper things.
The book in question is 'Men I've Loved Before' by Adele Parks. The title doesn't necessarily suggest it would prompt deep philosophical thought and is yet another one that has sent my husband's brow furrowing as he sits next to me in bed, particularly after my last pick 'Husbands - Is one ever enough?' In the book the main character doesn't want to have a baby because (spoiler alert) her mother died in childbirth. I have a friend who had the same start in life and the effect is devastating. It makes your heart ache. That coupled with my 'funeral' attire got me thinking about my own evolving views on life, death and eternity (I did warn you...!).
When I was at University studying Biology I feel headlong in love with science and particularly with the theory of evolution. What I love about it, and about the record of life on earth as we know it, is the ability of life to overcome. I remember one of my lecturers saying that at any point in time, in any place where the conditions allow it, life with evolve. Just look at the diversity on earth, all the strange nooks and crannies that life can survive – on the edge of volcanoes and at the bottom of the ocean. It gave me such a sense of comfort that no matter what we stupid humans do life will always win out. It is spontaneous, always seeking a way.
In my third year I went on to study flowering plants. The arrival of many modern flowering plants on the earth is amazing. The fossil records show that about a hundred million years ago there were hardly any flowering plants, just a few magnolias, and then suddenly there were hundreds of different kinds. I can just imagine it, all that colour and vitality exploding across the landscape (granted over a longer period than day but in terms of the whole history of the earth, very fast indeed). We now have 235,000 different kinds of flowering plants on earth.
In my third year at University, while studying my beloved flowering plants, I also became a Christian (much to the bafflement of most my friends and family!). It was then, as I started to discover the bible alongside my textbooks, that I came across the book of Ecclesiastes. The book is basically a rather rambling account of how everything is meaningless and the best thing to do is drink and be merry while you can. I absolutely love it. Ecclesiastes charts so accurately the bitter sadness of loss, how meaningless it feels, just like the feelings of the character in my book.
There is one particular line that particularly sticks we me and back then pulled together the sadness of life with my tentative new faith and my heart's reaction to the winning out of life that I saw in evolution:
'He has made everything beautiful in it's time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.'
I still live with that conflict and sometimes it feels like dressing up a funeral dress to insist on something more. But then I go back to that feeling that is so well summed up in William Blake's famous poem, Augeries of Innocence, and find some balance again.
'To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.'