Do you remember the 1990 Voyager photo of the Pale Blue Dot, Our Blue Planet barely visible as a tiny grain of rice, like a speck of dust in a sunbeam seen from the outskirts of our solar system?
From that far away global debates even about surveillance, privacy and trust seem very insignificant indeed.
What does it all matter?
You can’t trust anyone, anyway.
Or can you?
Let the big guys fight about who’s got The Most Money, The Most Power, The Biggest Data.
Let them fight their vane school yard games, so alarmingly adolescent if it wasn’t for the sad fact that they are deadly serious about it and don’t care if they involve millions if not billions of ordinary, law abiding citizens on Our Blue Planet.
To the majority of us, our small, everyday concerns are by far the most important.
Right now I’m actually worrying if I have enough rice to cook for dinner this evening.
Should I rush out to buy some more?
Going a little further out, not to buy rice, but into space from where the Pale Blue Dot photo was taken, Our Blue Planet disappears altogether.
And even further out, if we could manage to get there, we wouldn’t even be able to see our solar system at all.
I find that very consoling.
The mere existence of Earth, billions of years of evolution, humanity itself and everything that goes with it, merges with the universe, with infinity…
Disappears into nothingness…
Dissolves in the darkness of eternity…
In the vastness of space and time, we, Homo sapiens, really don’t matter that much.
All our love, hope, hate, struggle for knowledge, money, sex and power doesn’t matter one, tiny pale blue speck of dust.
I find that a most calming thought.
Stars and solar systems are borne and die away…
Universes come and go…
Here today, gone tomorrow…
Yes, so what?
But this Pale Blue Dot, this tiny grain of luminescent rice, is Our Planet, Our Home. The most soothing shade of life-giving ocean blue, hoovering alone in the midst of nowhere, with us, Humanity, crawling bewildered, all over it, like busy ants on a forest floor.
Living something we don’t really understand.
But this is what we do.
This is what we have.
This ever fascinating world of form, colour, smell and sound.
This unfathomable planet of multifaceted diversity.
This finite Earth of endless possibilities.
This is where we live our lives.
How do we earn the trust of each other?
How do we avoid letting down people who trust us?
Universes might come and go, but for the time being, as long as we are here, on Our Blue Planet, we all have to prove we deserve the trust of one another.
High and low.
Big and small.
You and me.
Trust is the very foundation of happiness.
Everybody spies on everybody.
When it comes to the national security agencies on our blue planet, past, present and those to come, it’s a universal truth.
The NSA’s of the world feel at their most comfortable when they know as many secrets about their friends and enemies as possible.
About you and me – and whoever is hiding under the bed.
Historically it’s always been like that and it’s something we all have to live with.
I don’t believe any amount of legislation, bi- or multilateral agreements will ever put an end to that.
The authorities and politicians that are supposed to control these agencies may promise more openness and transparency, but in the end these agencies can only work from the shadows, if not outright darkness.
That’s how they operate.
It’s their only possible way of working.
They can’t be out in the open.
It’s against their very nature.
On the other hand, somebody have to rein them in.
Somebody have to limit their power.
And I don’t believe they themselves have enough restraint or self-discipline to do that.
The more they know. The better they feel.
So, who is to decide how much and what kind of information for them to sift through and collect?
How much and what kind of information to store?
Who is to decide what to do with this information?
Now and in the future?
Is it you and me?
Off course it is.
It is you and me who should decide this.
Or is it really?
These agencies are our agencies.
Or are they really?
They are supposed to protect you and me and act as some sort of guarantee of stability and peace in your country and my country and in the countries of our allies.
On that all the NSA’s in all countries on our blue planet would agree I’m sure.
They are there to guarantee the integrity of their individual nations.
How they go about doing this is quite another matter.
Now your country might not be my country, your allies might not be my allies, your political views, not my political views, your idea of privacy, not my idea of privacy, but for most of us, ordinary citizens of the world, it all boils down to be able to live a secure, peaceful life where we can go along with our daily business.
And privacy is a very important part of that.
“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” as they welcome you at the Utah Data Center, “designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to monitor, strengthen and protect the nation.”
I don’t feel I have anything to hide as such. But I do cherish my privacy.
I want to decide what to share, when to share it and with whom.
It should be up to each and every one of us to decide that.
Whether we want to stay completely private without even a mobile phone to log our movements constantly or to share all our golden moments on social media or broadcast every intimate thought and action online 24/7 is up to us.
That’s your decision.
That’s my decision.
And no security agency in any country should have any right to bother us about that.
However, as we all know by now, this isn’t reality.
Surveillance is the business model of the internet.
The security agencies and the huge commercial internet companies, not exactly defenders of privacy rights themselves, grab as much personal information about us and our online activities as they can possibly get away with. Information often fed more than voluntarily to them by us via social media, search engines etc. etc. and used in more or less any witch way they see fit.
Being it to fight terrorism, prevent or conduct future cyberwars, control populations or individuals, sell soap powder, books or music or build detailed psychological profiles of us in order to predict what we might want, do, say or think in a second, tomorrow, next year or in ten years time.
Collectively and individually they would like to know even more than we know about ourselves on a conscious level.
But it’s a fact.
We live in the golden age of intelligence.
So what can we do about this?
Do we want to do anything?
Do we need to do anything?
Should we pull the plug and avoid communication and the internet all together?
Should we censor ourselves so as not to get in the spotlight?
Should we avoid controversial topics online/offline out of fear of government surveillance?
Should we be worried about privacy rights and freedom of speech?
These are some of the important questions we have to continue to ask ourselves individually and collectively the coming year – and for many years to come.
To my mind we have to speak out in public.
We have to discuss in public.
We have to disagree in public.
At least those of us who are fortunate enough to live in societies open enough to tolerate this kind of debate.
Those of us who do not put our lives or jobs at risk nor those of our families and friends.
That’s our duty to ourselves and the societies we live in.
That’s our duty to the future of our children and the world of tomorrow.
That’s part of our human rights.
That’s what former NSA contractor, whistleblower Edward Snowdens revelations in The Washington Post and Britain’s The Guardian newspaper over the past year are all about.
That’s why I wish you, Edward Joseph Snowden in Russia, a hopefully Safe and Happy New Year, knowing you are paying a huge prize following your conviction!
And I wish a Happy New Year to you, my dear reader, and to every living freedom loving soul on Our Blue Planet.
A healthy society needs not only to protect, but also to encourage dissent.
Dissent is the lifeblood of a healthy society.
Dissent is the lifeblood of democracy.
(Updated February 8, 2014)
Have you ever thought about starting a blog or an online journal? Perhaps on one of your favourite subjects or hobbies?
Did you do it?
Do you still run it?
My journal OnOurBluePlanet.org is now in its third year, just having celebrated its second birthday on October 10.
However it’s been almost a year since I posted something new.
It’s been a year of silence.
I often surf into blogs, journals and home pages that haven’t been updated for years.
Some of them unfinished projects, made on the spur of the moment a cold winter’s evening and perhaps worked on for a few days or weeks.
The authors having uploaded all his or her best photos and written passionately, until they ran out of interest, forgot about their blog and got on with their lives.
Others are finished full blown blogs that people have been working on for years. Offering loads of interesting articles and information that I really enjoy reading. But then sometimes, at a certain point, the author stops posting.
The blog is still there…
But nothing happens…
Like a fully furnished house suddenly left by its inhabitants.
Where did they go? Why did they leave? What have become of them?
I find it fascinating in a mysterious sort of way.
You probably have thought about writing a book or starting a blog. Perhaps you’ve done it. You might be successful with it and even earn a bit of money.
And along the way you’ve started at least one online project that you’ve lost interest in or for some odd reason haven’t developed.
It’s part of a process.
But if you didn’t delete your blog, it’ll still be there.
Even if you did delete it, it might be stored somewhere with billions of other kinds of online material by the NSA or on other obscure servers around the world. Saved by systems or people who will never ever actually read, what you have written, but who believe that sort of material might come in handy one day.
And who knows. It just might.
You also could’ve tried writing a blog just for the hell of it. And unexpectedly experienced great success. Either personally or money wise or both. But once you found this outlet for your idea you left it and got on with your life.
It was a one-off.
Which I find very healthy.
You might return to your writing project one day. Or you might not. Either writing wasn’t for you or you got to say what you wanted.
That was that. You left it.
I haven’t left On Our Blue Planet. I’ve just been busy doing other things.
Like taking care of family, talking to friends, drinking coffee, weeding the garden, taking a swim or going for walks. You know, those everyday things which are so important.
I’ve even earned a bit of money now and then.
I’m a writer. But I don’t write every day.
I find it very difficult to write if I’m not inspired. I’m overcome by fatigue and fall asleep in front of the screen. No amount of coffee can keep me awake and get me working.
I’ve tried many, many times, consuming endless amounts of coffee.
I know some writers are very disciplined, getting up early in the morning writing for several hours every day.
I’d love to do it. But until now I haven’t been able to incorporate that sort of writing cycle into my life and daily routine.
Perhaps the time will come.
Coffee or not.
I suppose all those half finished blogs out there is just a testament to many peoples sudden need to try something out.
Easy to do online if not always in real life.
You sign up in seconds. Try it out for minutes, hours, days, months, years…
And you’re free to leave.
Just as suddenly as you began.
Free to forget all about its existence…
But it’s there.
Like another Voyager travelling through outer space, testament to someone’s thoughts and ideas however vane or ingenious.
Surviving on more or less obscure servers only God knows where.
For years. Perhaps decades. Or longer…
It might mysteriously reach a screen once in a blue moon in Dar es Salaam, Ulan Ude or Tongatapu…
Until someone, who in all likelihood never knew it was there in the first place, mercifully deletes it from its last server, together with uncountable amounts of other unwanted information.
And finally its gone…
Have you ever read anything by Jeremy Rifkin? I haven’t. Well, it’s not that strange, there are so many great books in the world I haven’t read and probably never will. That’s life. Can’t do everything. Very often I’d rather go for a walk in the forest or spend some time working in the garden.
But there are certain books which come into my life, one way or the other, that I simply must dig into. This might be one of them. All six hundred and some pages of it.
Years ago a friend of mine recommended “Entropy: A New World View” also by Rifkin. Somehow I never got around to it. But now another work by him has risen on the horizon. I’ve just read the introduction to The Empathic Civilization published in 2009.
Jeremy Rifkin writes that, as opposed to the generally held historical belief that we, Homo sapiens, are by nature “aggressive, materialistic, utilitarian, and self-interested”, there is now an emerging and in some scientific and intellectual circles apparently controversial realisation, that we are basically an empathetic species, Homo empathicus.
Are we? Really? Deep down? An empathetic species…
Wonder what brought us to where we are now if that is true? Empathy isn’t exactly ruling the world at the moment.
Will it ever?
I’m going to meditate on that one in the kitchen. Potatoes are waiting. Which is what The Empathic Civilization will have to do until tomorrow, when I might light the fireplace and snuggle up in front of it with my new book.
What a great way to spend a dark, cold evening in late autumn. Or several evenings that is, to read all 674 pages. Index included.
Imagine an Empathic Civilization is waiting for me.
Is it really possible that it might be waiting for all of us on our blue planet in the future? However distant.
It won’t be tomorrow I’m afraid.
But then it will be for me.
In the form of a book.
Am really looking forward to it.
I have mixed feelings about many aspects of the Olympics, but one event above all others always fascinates and moves me: the March of Nations at the opening of the games. This ceremony gives me the illusion that peace in the world is possible.
This year 204 nations marched in one after the other.
It’s the only occasion on our blue planet where people from so many countries come together in one place.
Men and women from all corners of the globe defile past 3 billion viewers.
Marching healthy, happy and smiling.
It’s a surreal thought that all the wars, all the bloodshed, all the trouble in the history of humankind, has taken place between the compatriots, past and present, of the defiling representatives of these 204 nations.
But then again so has all the love, friendship and understanding.
In the background of the stadium, 204 nations planted their flags on a small grass clad hill. One by one. Until all 204 colourful flags were there. Peacefully side by side.
What a wonderful illusion.
Or dare I say – what a wonderful fragile hope?
How often do you hear someone say something and for some reason let it pass, without quite understanding what they actually meant by saying what they did?
I do. From time to time. And I often regret it. Can puzzle me for days.
Last night on the town I met a woman who works with small children. She told me about an episode with a girl 3 or 4 years old, perhaps of Indian origin, who very agitated told her that she wouldn’t play with this other little girl because “then my feet will fall off”.
I can understand that. I certainly wouldn’t play with someone if there was even the slightest risk of my feet falling off.
However, the conflict between the two girls apparently solved itself quite quickly and my acquaintance didn’t have time to dig into what the girl actually meant by “then my feet will fall off”.
Did the girl really fear that her feet might fall off? Was she merely talking about her socks or shoes? Or was she perhaps referring to something you say in her own culture? Or…?
Another of lifes small mysteries.
The other day I visited a very dear, old friend of mine, the mother of a childhood friend from school.
I hadn’t seen her for about a year. She’s in her late eighties, suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair, but living close to her daughter, in her own house.
When I visited her last year she could recognize me and we had a small, almost coherent, conversation about times past.
This time, her daughter, my friend from school, had warned me that her mother wasn’t at all getting better. Sometimes she couldn’t even recognize her.
With that in mind I was a bit anxious but prepared to go see her.
I knocked on her door, but there was no answer. I went in and found her sitting in the living room, in her wheelchair in front of the TV.
“Hi, it’s Oak!” I said
“Hi Oak.“ She answered in a feeble voice without looking at me.
I asked her how she was. “Not well.” she said.
And that’s what she said while I was there.
I gave her fragile body a tender hug as I have always done.
There wasn’t any reaction.
I tried to ask her a few questions to which I knew she knew the answers.
No reaction. Her eyes were empty.
Or was she simply far, far away, in deep thoughts and memories she couldn’t share with anyone, any more?
She was once one of the most hospitable people I have ever known. Welcoming guests with big hugs, laughter and kisses. Cooking the most sumptuous dinners. Weekly, at her home, when I, as a child, was playing with my schoolmate and was invited to stay for dinner, but also when my mother and I, often several times a year, were invited to her wonderful, whitewashed “casita”, on a hillside, on the small Mediterranean island of Ibiza.
All surrounded by wild, aromatic herbs like thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary, and pine, olive, carob and fig trees, with the most breathtaking view of an invitingly beautiful, turquoise, horseshoe bay, deep down below.
In spring the wild orchids were abundant and in autumn we could pick the fat, cracked, sun ripe figs and sweet carobs, which sounded like a rattlesnake when shaken.
Daytime we would go down to the beach and swim or we might go into Ibiza town to shop fresh produce at the old covered market.
In the evening she would cook her wonderful meals and we would dine in front of the house under the starlit Mediterranean sky, listening to the crickets, long into the night, eating, talking, playing cards and when I became old enough, I too would drink liberal amounts of the local wine.
But all that and much, much more, happened decades ago.
Now she is an old woman confined to a wheelchair.
I stroke her hair.
She had been a great tennis player too. Even played at Wimbledon as a teenager. Found all her silver trophies a bore to polish.
Where have all those memories gone?
Are they in there, somewhere, in her thoughts, in a dimension we know nothing about?
Has she simply retracted all her senses from a life that no longer interests her, a life she is no longer able to live? Wants to live? Has she simply withdrawn to the deepest recesses of her mind? Reliving her past? Meditating about whatever the future might bring?
Or is all a void?
Those empty eyes.
Not looking straight at me once.
Not looking at me at all.
What was going on in her mind?
What was left of her mind?
She was aware that I was there, or was she?
Was she at all conscious of me visiting her?
I think so.
Or do I?
When she no longer could live alone in her old house, which I had known all my life, and had to sell it, it was demolished.
Lock, stock and barrel.
The airy living room with its high, beamed ceilings, where I sat as a teenager with my friend from school and talked about life and love, until long past midnight, gone.
Her cosy, sunlit kitchen, where she lovingly had prepared thousands of meals, gone.
The covered terrace where we sat and enjoyed freshly cooked shrimps in the summer next to a roaring fire, gone.
Even the beautiful garden with the playhouse, where my friend and I used to play as children was totally levelled with the ground.
The yew hedges, the rose bed, gone, the crab apple tree from which she made delicious jelly in the autumn, gone, the gigantic, ancient pine and even the aconites, the snowdrops, the daffodils and tulips, everything gone.
All that was left was bare soil.
Once in a while I would pass by on one of my walks, as it’s quite close to where I live.
I would be standing there, looking at the barren earth, imagining the lawn, the rose bed, the house, the kitchen door and my friend opening it to welcome me with a happy smile and open arms.
Now she could hardly hold a spoon to feed herself.
I expected something to be built there quite soon.
But nothing happened.
It keep lying as an open field.
As if the spirit of the place wouldn’t allow anything new to be built.
I gave her another hug.
In a way it was as if she wanted to respond, but somehow had forgotten how to.
Perhaps she felt my arms around her, but simply didn’t remember how to deal with feelings.
Perhaps she was beyond feelings.
In another world of just – being.
Being whatever it was she was now.
Where she was now.
How would I know?
I sat next to her in silence.
Just how conscious was she of her own condition?
How conscious was she of life around her?
What is it to be conscious?
I looked at her.
Gave her a last hug.
Stroke her chin.
In the doorway I turned around to look at her.
She didn’t look back.
Normally by our protected bay we don’t get flooding. But a few days ago it happened. For the first time ever. It wasn’t by any measure hurricane Katrina, but perhaps climate change has finally come to our shores, threatening our homes.
I was just going down to the study to check a few details in my manuscript.
And then another few.
Then I got a couple of ideas.
And a few more.
And started writing.
Minutes turned into hours, as so often happens when I’m working.
I could hear strong gusts of wind. The weather forecast wasn’t that good. They had been talking about a storm hitting us.
Absolutely absorbed in work, I didn’t pay much attention to it.
The storm hit us from the west and as the house is on the east side of the forest, we were quite protected. I thought about going down to the road along the ocean, to see what was going on, how high the water had risen, how big the waves were, but no matter what, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
So I stayed.
From time to time I could hear a branch being torn off a tree, but it really didn’t sound that bad. So I just kept on writing. 6 p.m. turned into 9 p.m., turned into 1 a.m., turned into 4:36 a.m., before I finally went to bed.
In the morning I woke up quite early. Curious about what the storm might have done to the garden and the beach.
The garden was fine. A few twigs and branches here and there. Not alarming in any way.
Then I walked down to the road along the ocean. Things weren’t all right. Everything had been covered in sand and seaweed. For the first time ever, the ocean had overflown the road and run a few yards into the gardens along the opposite side.
The water had now receded and was almost back to normal. The surge hadn’t created a major catastrophe, but it was the first time ever it had happened here at our protected bay.
Landings had been washed away. Terraces smashed. And the beautiful small tea pavilion by the sea had had its doors smashed and all of its furniture tumbled around by the waves. Some of it gone, some of it lying in the bushes by the road. But the pavilion itself was still there.
I sat down and looked at the devastation. Speechless.
Luckily there are no houses on the ocean side of the road. It’s just a long, narrow stretch of beach. I don’t think anybody had been hurt. Not around here. But elsewhere? I didn’t know.
It was a very strange feeling, that I had been working all night, barely 150 feet away, protected by gardens and other houses. Oblivious of what was going on.
Very odd to be so close to a minor catastrophe like this, not knowing anything about it.
I had been sitting there writing all night. Happy.
Hadn’t heard a thing. No waves, no smashing of terraces or landings. Nothing but the sound of the storm tearing in the trees of the forest.
I might as well have been on another planet.
It was like being in the eye of a hurricane where all is calm. Everything is chaos around you, but you don’t know it, because right where you are it’s all bliss and harmony.
The situation really fascinates me, now, some time after it happened.
The situation could instantaneously have changed, had the water risen even more, but it didn’t. There was quite some material damage, yes, but no one was hurt. No one got their livelihood swept away.
So I think I’m morally free to muse about it.
My fascination has to do with being present: I was writing, oblivious of anything else.
It has to do with inevitability: I could hear the storm, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it.
But perhaps most important of all: It has to do with brick.
The big, thick, brick walls surrounding me and my safe, comfortable study.
It is all about being safely at home. Where nothing or no one can bother you. Where you are free to do what you want, when you want, no matter what. That’s what’s at the heart of my feeling.
Do you have a home? If you do, then you’re lucky.
Far from all of us on our blue planet have a home to call our own.
What does that home mean to you?
What is it to be home?
Is it sleeping tightly in a cardboard box in the slums of a big city? That is, if you are lucky enough to own a cardboard box. Not everyone is. In certain areas on our blue planet, strong, sturdy cardboard boxes to sleep in are in great demand.
Is it living in a nice one room flat, where you can close your door and no one will bother you?
Is it a small house? Or a big one?
Or do you own several homes, having the hard choice of whether to spend the holidays on your island in the Caribbean, in your penthouse in New York or your chalet in the Alps? One can have sleepless nights about matters like that. No?
Or are you more of a nomad? Home is where you hang your hat?
But home is also the area, town, city, country even planet where you happen to be living.
Home can mean so many different things to different people.
And basically, haven’t we all got a right to live in a safe home?
A home where you feel safe not only from the vagaries of the weather and can sleep tightly at night, but also a home where the military or the secret police won’t come and get you, because you think and talk differently, where your every move isn’t recorded, where your online activity isn’t meticulously followed, stored and analysed by companies, intelligence agencies and big internet spiders, good, bad or in between, without your knowledge?
Of course we all have a right to that.
A human right.
I have just been down to the beach again. I was thinking of the wooden terraces and landings that had been swept away as if they had never been there.
But now that I have become accustomed to the situation, I can see it with fresh eyes.
Standing there, looking at the wide, swathe of virgin sand, swept totally clean by the storm, one wouldn’t think that a near disaster had struck a few days earlier.
It’s now the most beautiful, pristine beach you could ever imagine. Just lying there, innocently in the sun, as if nothing had happened. Waiting to be walked on by naked feet. A blissful picture-postcard scene.
The storm has passed.
The sky is clear.
Nature did its thing the other night. Did what nature mostly does: Transforms, builds up, breaks down, moves around, creates anew.
The same shifting sand.
The same water.
Flowing, evaporating, forming clouds, raining, liquefying, flowing, evaporating, forming clouds, raining…
Recycling, for millions and billions of years on our blue planet.
Demonstrating its power to give, take away and give again.
Behind it has left a clean slate.
A virgin beach.
A new beginning.
If you haven’t visited On Our Blue Planet before, please stay on and read some of my recent posts. If you have been here before and have read a few posts – and dare I hope that you have? – you might like to visit my log Kepler-22b with quotes and clippings about the newly found Earth 2.0 collected in the Tumblrverse and beyond.
According to the idea of six degrees of separation, all inhabitants on our blue planet should, at the most, be six steps away from each other by way of introduction of a friend of a friend of a friend etc. But on some occasions you are a lot closer to certain people than you would ever imagine.
Sometimes you bump into people you could never anticipate meeting. Like last weekend on the town. I was out partying with a few friends and we ended up at some sleazy late night bar. And no, I’ll admit this up front: I didn’t meet Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi in person nor did I meet Osama bin Laden, Elvis Presley or Donald Duck. I wasn’t that drunk. I did meet Marilyn Monroe earlier in the evening though, at a gay bar, surprise, surprise. But that’s another story. At this bar I met someone else.
My friends and I entered the jumping, dimly lit, smoke filled joint, had yet another beer, my friends started playing pool and I sat down in a crowded corner, next to a friendly, smiling middle aged, middle eastern looking man.
I can’t quite remember how we came to talk about these things, probably I asked him where he was from and I think he perhaps said Lebanon, anyhow we started talking about the Arabian Spring and its implications for the Arab World. It turned out that he worked in diplomacy and had actually met both Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein through his work.
For some strange, unknown reason it moved me very much. I could feel tears were on their way.
While trying to find photos on his iPhone of his meetings with the dictators, he told me that they both should have been taken to court. In his opinion that would have been the most appropriate thing to do. Taken to court and sentenced. Executions without trial were unworthy of countries aspiring for democracy.
He found the photo, but then seemed somewhat reluctant to show it to me. I might be misinterpreting, I don’t know, but he showed it to me anyhow. And there he was, in stark sunlight, standing in a stairway, with a small group of people, surrounding Saddam Hussein.
By now tears had come to my eyes. I was on the verge of crying.
For some obscure reason I was deeply moved by what he was telling me. And mind you, I’m not a person who generally is to be found sobbing at 6 a.m. talking to strangers at sleazy bars. I can be found talking to strangers at sleazy bars or clip joints at 6 a.m. Certainly. But not sobbing.
Even now, sitting here writing about it, I can almost feel tears coming to my eyes again. Almost. I mean, they are in there, somewhere. And I’m trying to figure out why.
Why on earth should I feel so moved by meeting a guy who had met these abominable dictators? I didn’t even know what role he himself had or had had in diplomacy, he didn’t say. Was he for or against these regimes? I don’t know.
Shouldn’t I rather have rose to my feet, full of rage, spat on the ground and shouted: Off with their heads and good riddance. Low life bastards!
Well, I didn’t.
Musing about it, I have come to the conclusion, that these tears were caused by the hopes and fears I have had during the past year, on behalf of the courageous people in Tahrir Square in Cairo and by the brave and admirable liberation movements in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere on the planet, where people are fighting and dying at this very moment, for something I often tend to take for granted, the right to think and say what they want. Without having to be afraid of reprisals from authorities.
This guy acted as a catalyst for my amassed feelings. But I think there is more to it.
Every day we get so many horrible stories through the media, we’re presented with so much violence and pain. Everything seems so real, right there in front of us, on television, in our own living room and yet it’s just abstract, electronic shadows on an ice-cold screen.
Even though many channels try to serve their news more like some sort of infotainment, complete with soundtracks and cliffhangers, in order to catch our attention, to manipulate us into feeling more than we might without. And hang on through the commercials.
On me this kind of superficial icing often has the opposite result: I get so annoyed on this way of providing news that it either leaves me cold or I get angry because of all the circus surrounding the pure facts themselves. I mean, as if reality in itself wasn’t more than enough. I don’t need a soundtrack to understand the severity of a plane crash in Columbia.
However, there is, thank G.. , a wide span between my own day-to-day reality and the multitude of violence and real life drama, that I experience on television all the time. It is my belief, or ought I to say frail hope?, that most people in the world never experience as much violence and suffering during their entire lives as you and I are witnesses to on an average day of watching news on TV.
And because we are stuffed to suffocation with war, pain and catastrophes every minute of an average newscast, just like poor foie-gras geese with grain before Christmas, we have, to a certain extent, become immune to all this. On television at least, not, hopefully, in real life. It’s a necessity.
No one could keep their sanity if they really felt genuine compassion, during every newscast, for the people experiencing dreadful events.
I very often wonder what these daily blanket bombings with news do to us? What kind of people are we turning into? What do they do to our feelings? What do they do to our civilisation? No one can rightfully claim that we are unaffected. But to what degree and in what way they affect us I don’t know. I can only guess.
And one of my guesses is that we all amass tons of frustrated feelings, good and bad, feelings that we really don’t have any immediate outlet for.
But there, then, suddenly, completely unexpected and in tears, in a sleazy, jumping joint at 6 a.m., I was sitting in front of a guy who had actually been close to two dictators, prime causes of revolution and war. Who had met two of our times most hated and infamous men, sources of unspeakable fear, pain and suffering.
I could almost touch world history. This was reality, live!
It was, to me, in its own twisted, inverted way, a very big moment. A moment that brought me to tears.
However, afterwards, and also while he was telling me these things, in the midst of my tears, I had a sneaking doubt as to whether it was true. But what about the photo? Could be a fake. But how could he benefit from telling me a lie? Perhaps he was just a compulsive liar. I don’t know, he did a very good job indeed if he was, but I think he told me the truth. Alas, somehow, in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. My tears were true.
I was so moved, I simply had to leave.
I rose abruptly. I could see he was a bit surprised, he liked talking to me and I liked talking to him, but I didn’t want to sit there crying. It was to private, to painful. I couldn’t share my tears, even though it was his story that had provoked them. So I excused myself to him and my pool playing friends, by saying I was getting smoke in my eyes and urgently needed some oxygen. I left the dark, smoky bar in a hurry, fled out into the sunshine, took deep breaths of fresh air. Walked on. Not to return.
Perhaps I regret I didn’t. Could have been extremely interesting to continue talking to this guy. Compulsive liar or not. But as it was, I walked on in the morning sun. And that’s that.
I had been reminded, though, of just how close we are to each other on our blue planet. Mostly without realising it.
The woman you accidentally bumped into yesterday in front of the supermarket, with your arms full of groceries, might have been related to the boy you just saw on the news, lying in a pool of blood in a dusty street. Or she might have been related to the girl, who was married in the cathedral, to the prince you saw in the clip right after. You simply don’t know.
I’m a gardener and a writer, living a peaceful life, that’s all I want. All I need. And I guess that’s what most people in the world really want.
But at that particular morning in my life I was separated from unbelievable terror and world history by only two degrees. And that is the closest, hopefully, that I will ever come to dictators like Hussein and Gaddafi.
John F. Kennedy said in a speech in 1963, something which is as relevant to our general situation in the world today, as it was to the arms race then:
“So, let us not be blind to our differences – - but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
We are, all of us, on our blue planet, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, much closer to each other than we might realise.
We are all related.
Outside the sun is shining warmly, the sky is blue, leaves are falling, one by one. It’s autumn. An absolutely irresistible day for a long walk. I wrestle myself loose from my absorbing work at the computer, put my boots on and head out into the forest.
For weeks I’ve been working like crazy on this website. Forgetting everyone and everything around me. I’m utterly exhausted. Staring at the screen for hours and hours on end have made my eyes feel almost fluorescent. They are obviously not made with Teflon.
It’s so quiet. Not a breath of wind. Walking beneath the trees all clad in their golden autumn hues, taking deep breaths of fresh, clear, cool air, I realise I haven’t been out here for several weeks.
Normally I go for a walk almost daily, always along the same old trail. It takes about an hour. Up through the forest behind the house, then out into the open fields, saying hello to the placid cows, then further along a trail, up to the country lane, then back along the lane, down to the beach and along the ocean home. But during these past few weeks while immersing myself in the construction of On Our Blue Planet, I have hardly been out at all.
It is life-giving! Oxygen. Fresh air. Sunshine. That’s what I need. And the colours: The yellows, the golden browns, the reds, still with a sprinkling of green here and there. I inhale the smell of decaying leaves. The essence of autumn.
But something is wrong. I can’t really see, or… get into contact with the forest today. Not that we usually engage in a deep conversation, the forest and I, and yet, perhaps that is exactly what we do.
In a sense. It’s difficult to explain. It’s about presence.
But now it is as if there is a screen between us. An invisible soft cotton wall, that makes touching the forest mentally difficult, if not impossible. What is wrong? Well, of course I know what’s wrong.
I’ve been working day and night on this journal, finding the right name, deciding whether I should host it myself, and in that case finding the best domain name, as for CMS should I choose Drupal, WordPress, Joomla or something else, then designing the layout, settings, choosing plug-ins and so on and so on and so forth. And then pulling it all together. I’m sure most bloggers know what I’m talking about.
It’s been a real adventure into the marvels of cyberspace and the wonders of WordPress. And along the way, being a complete novice at these things, I managed to make a bit of a mess more than once. For example when trying to modify different things in the CSS – sounds rather like bad guys from World War Two – about which I had never heard before and knew absolutely nothing. But hey, why not give it a go I thought. Disaster struck. More than once. And I had to spend hours undoing changes I really didn’t remember how I had implemented in the first place. Aah, the joys of learning by doing.
But I overcame the initial hardships and after a few weeks of engaging work, the platform for my future online journal is now in place. More or less. And I’m quite pleased.
I wanted a very simple environment with words at the centre. An online journal. And no adds, no sprawling bangles and banners, no blinking, rotating objects to distract your eyes. First and foremost the words. Not a lot of hurly-burly to distract the readers attention. Except for, initially, the combination of the title On Our Blue Planet and the enigmatic photo “Earthrise” from 1968: Half blue Earth emerging from a sea of black. Hovering alone in empty space.
But now, standing here watching the cows munching grass, I contemplate the difference between immersing myself in Cyberspace and my present difficulty of going for something as simple as a walk in the autumn forest.
I’m not really present. That’s a fact. It is as if I’m walking next to myself. I feel as is I have been wrapped, head to toe, in a voluminous duvet.
It feels a bit like the day after a night on the town, when you’ve had enough, well perhaps more than enough to drink. But I haven’t had any wine or beer lately. I’ve just been working.
And that’s just it!
After three weeks of building the site, burying myself in the world of CMS, CSS, pinging, tags, meta descriptions, SEO etc. etc. more or less day and night, could I expect anything else? Loosing myself in Cyberspace and it’s marvellous possibilities and challenges, has its price it seems. For a novice like me at least.
I have ended up not being able to sleep properly at night, or day for that matter. Just lying down for an hour or two and then continuing. I’m enjoying myself immensely, no question about that. It is almost like living in a fairytale on speed. And I don’t even drink coffee.
Forgetting to eat and sleep, just thinking about the construction of the site is a wonderful and fantastic luxury, a real adventure, but Cyberspace is not the natural habitat of my mind. The chair by my desk, however comfortable and ergonomically correct, is not supposed to be the sole place for my body to dwell.
But I’m having so much fun. I want to go on and discover this new world. Could go on for weeks, but my body reacts against it. My brain feels as if it is vibrating, probably blood pulsating through and an area near my heart has begun to quiver in a funny sort of way I’ve never felt before. It must be stress.
No wonder I feel like a stranger in nature today.
I walk on along the trail, trying to concentrate on the green of the grass, the golden browns of the leaves and the blue of the sky. It’s difficult. I can’t break through the invisible barrier.
I try to relax and not think about it. After half an hours walk it gets a bit better. I’m still not fully present though. It takes time to wind down. Time.
But the forest is reminding me of what I am, who I am, where I belong. It reminds me that we are interrelated, the forest and I. That I can’t do whatever I want to my senses and mind and still expect to be able to experience its silent secret. I’m a part of this forest, this nature, that surrounds me. The soil, the fallen leaves, the iridescent green moss on the trees, the sunbeams flickering through the foliage, that’s me, that’s my real world. My life. This is where I come from, this is the soil in which my food is growing and this is the soil I’ll rest in when my life on our blue planet is over.
Sitting in front of the screen for days on end, pinging search engines, checking statistics, looking up IPs: Getting to focused on the wrong things. No, no no: Not the wrong things, just other things, very important things for many people and for me, now, creating, and in the future maintaining, this journal.
But it is simply getting too much. I’m overdoing it. I’m loosing my focus. Staring at what is supposed to be the platform, the frame, for my online writing and almost forgetting the reason for the process: The act of writing itself.
Someone once said that the problem with computers, was not that they might become like humans, no, the real problem was that humans might turn into computers.
Am I becoming one right now? Am I identifying myself so much with my work in front of the screen, that I’m taking the first steps towards turning into a desktop?
Wonder how a desktop would react to a walk in the forest? Hmm? Fresh air and sunshine would that be any good for the circuits? High, blue sky and munching cows, a real treat for the hard disk? Hardly.
That’s must be the keyword. I’m getting out of balance. I’ve gotten out of balance. My body is not a mesh of electronic circuitry. My brain is not a hard disk. Neither can take it much longer.
So, even though a part of me wants to go on, my ego, I suppose, I must put myself on a strict diet: No working on the site until I’m back in balance again and can fully enjoy something as simple as my everyday walk in the forest.
However, I have made the frame. My platform. My website. I’m pleased with it. So from now on I can focus on the purpose of it all: The writing. And rest assured, I most certainly will.
I’m a gardener at heart and a bit reclusive. I live on the East Coast, on an island in a garden by the sea. I won’t tell you exactly where though, but if you stick around I will tell you many things of greater or lesser importance. Perhaps often lesser, for what is of everyday importance in life if not the smallest things? Some of which at first glance might seem unimportant, if noticed at all? However it is my intention to cover many topics, our world is so wonderfully diverse – diversity - isn’t that a wonderful word, but they will all be sandwiched between the greatness of small things – and the minuteness of the infinite.
I’m not alone on the island, I have family and friends which are very dear to me. So I’m not a hermit. I love people, but I also have an inherent need to be alone, as you probably know most writers do. I won’t give you my real name, nor will I ask you yours, inquire where you live, what you do, who is hiding under your bed or what you had for breakfast this morning. However since I love oak trees, on these pages I will call myself Oak.
The name of the website – On Our Blue Planet – is primarily chosen because of the colour our planet has when seen from outer space. Not that I’ve been there. The oceans gives it that most beautiful colour and because blue is associated with the sea and the sky, blue has come to symbolize serenity and infinity. Our Serene Planet. Our Infinite Planet.
Another connotation of blue is of course “sad”. On Our “Sad” Planet. And it makes me wonder if the planet is sad at the moment? And in that case how sad and why?
Can planets be sad at all you might ask? And with good reason. Well I don’t know for sure. It is hard to ask it. Planets have a certain habit of not answering directly, even when asked in the most polite manner.
And then of course there is the “Our”, it is OUR Blue Planet, not only mine or yours or the penguins planet, it belongs to all sentient beings or we belong to it and all of us bear our individual responsibility for its present condition.
It is my intention slowly to add more material in the form of thoughts, articles and essays about all these matters. I post at quite irregular intervals, so if you find what you read in any way interesting, I would suggest that you subscribe to the free RSS feed.
On Our Blue Planet.org is, and always will be, an independent, non-commercial website. A small, peaceful heaven in cyberspace dedicated to the written word. A work in progress, solely born out of my wish to create and share my thoughts and meditations, for whatever they are worth, about life and everything that goes with it, with anyone who happens to pass by.
So if you like what you read it would make me very happy if you shared these pages with others. That is the best way to show me your appreciation of my work. There are sharing links to social networks etc. at the bottom of every page.
So do me the honour to follow me along the way and discover what might be found here and now, just around the corner in my garden, at the end of the rainbow or beyond – On Our Blue Planet.
Welcome to thoughts, articles, essays and more about life On Our Blue Planet as observed by someone living there in the first half of the 21st century AD. The plan is to post the first musings around the end of October or the beginning of November 2011.
See you back soon!
- Universes come and go… trust matters.
- Privacy Matters: Dissent is the lifeblood of a healthy society.
- A year of silence.
- Homo empathicus.
- March of Nations – What a Wonderful Illusion.
- Then my feet will fall off!
- Where have all the flowers gone?
- A home, is a home, is a home…
- Two degrees of separation: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Marilyn Monroe and me.
- Lost in the marvels of cyberspace or the endangered art of going for a walk.
- Two of my favourite quotations.
- The greatness of small things – and the minuteness of the infinite.
- Welcome to thoughts, articles, essays and more about life On Our Blue Planet.