Glorious mistakes

Now go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.

— Neil Gaiman

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Comfort in science

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.

— Aaron Freeman, writer and performer, in a 2005 interview for NPR

Just something to think about. I find this much more comforting than any faith-based words or rituals.

(PS – I was going to blog about the U.S. elections today but then I got side-tracked, and also my opinion as a European – while legitimate since American politics influence the entire globe – doesn’t really matter in the end. I will follow election coverage as best as I can from over here, though, and clutch my chest in relief when they announce Obama’s re-election.)

Favorite words by others

I am obsessed with other people’s words. Passages from books, lines from movies, lyrics (Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”!), sayings and proverbs; anything quotable (All The Jon Stewart All Of The Time!). I’m so obsessed, in fact, that there’s a category on this blog just for Words & Wisdom. So obsessed that I have a Pinterest board that currently holds 165 quotations I liked or enjoyed. I also have Word documents filled with lines from movies and TV shows because I always think I might be able to use them one day. For what, I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I think I am this much into what others have already said, rather than putting a thought into words myself, because English isn’t my first language. And I’m not very good at pinpointing the essence of a thought, anyway. Others will forever better express what I’m trying to say. Part of it is surely that I love reading and writing and words in general.

So naturally, I could never chose a single favorite quotation.

In high school they wanted everyone in the graduating class to put a quotation under their yearbook picture, and it took me a couple of months to decide. I ended up with: “Never look down on anybody, unless you’re helping them up.” Which is a nice sentiment, and probably a good general rule to live by. But it seems oddly specific, doesn’t it? I still feel proud not to have gone for “Every journey begins with a single step” because that seems to be everyone‘s favorite saying. Also in high school, my best friend at the time, whom I had sort of grown apart from in our final year or so, gave me a card that said “Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but they are always there.” It’s a bit cheesy but it really meant a lot to me at the time.

If I had to pick an all-time favorite now, it would be a tie between Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata (read the whole thing, it’s lovely), especially the last part:

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

… and these lines from the poem that Tolkien wrote for Lord of the Rings (although, again, the whole poem is great):

All that is gold does not glitter,
not all those who wander are lost.

I’m not sure that it’s such a good omen that I begin NaBloPoMo by telling you how much I prefer others’ words to my own. But I shall not give up just yet! I shall be happy and cheerful instead…

Do you have any favorite quotations?

I think there is a lot of pressure to be happy all the time. I don’t think it’s one’s natural state to be happy all the time. I think it’s okay not to be happy all the time. It makes the happiness all the better.

— Anderson Cooper