Exactly eight years ago this week, I wrote a journal entry which I’d like to share in the next few posts. It’s a long piece but it is good philosophy, which still holds up, as it surely will the next time I come across it in my notes, ten or twenty years from now, perhaps. Assuming I’m still around.
Because I have grandchildren, I’m always looking for opportunities to slip in a few eternal truths about life and how to live it. On July 25, 2001, I came across a large poster – a picture of the Titanic. You’ve probably seen this very poster, as it’s a popular one; but I’ll leave the description to the quote from my journal. Before I framed this, I conceived and wrote out a long personal philosophy to tape to the back of it for my grandchildren’s future enlightenment. The framed picture is still around somewhere in their house, perhaps in the basement, but I doubt if they’ve read it, since the moment passed so long ago. At the time, Riley was three and Molly was one. That didn’t stop me! My poor daughter has had to weather and store many of my Great Educational Intentions over the years. Well, here it is:
(Oh, by the way, the world is sort of doing this very thing right now due to the death of Michael Jackson. Let’s see if we can find the same sort of pattern. And hmmmm, couldn’t this same analogy be applied to certain financial affairs, which even in 2001, were beginning to indicate a massive and “surprising” sinking somewhere up ahead…but which failed to tip anyone off to the huge dangers we faced? When did Enron go under? )
“Yesterday, I bought a poster for Riley and Molly. I couldn’t resist, because it’s a real lesson in life. I think I’ll write this truth on a sheet of paper and affix it to the back of the poster so they will rehearse it when they look at the picture. Robert Silvers specializes in making these. He has taken hundreds of photographic scenes, each a complete picture in itself, mostly outdoor travel shots, and then reduced them to less than a half an inch square. Using their color values alone, he has formed the shape and details of The Titanic. When you back up, you can see the black hull and all the details, even to the ship’s name. Yet, it’s only done with the arrangement of random photos and the colors within them. It’s most amazing.
Life is this way, being made up of millions of moments, which are so varied and set in so many locations, filled with so many different people. Yet, from an ultimate distance, seen only when you die and review your life, it is possible to make out the mosaic that you were working on during your whole life when you were painting some greater picture, though you had no idea what it was. You could never have discerned the whole vision while you were inside of life, running around, taking your individual shots.
We can look further ahead, into a moment which is yet in the future for the object of this poster. Perhaps, we can discern, more or less, what its impending fate will be. Or, in human terms, where this soul is heading, ultimately.
Imagine that we stand in some great Decoding Room In The Sky, analyzing the life of the person who has just died. We are looking at this particular inner mosaic with them…sort of as a coroner might examine a body to see what was there from the beginning and what had evolved since then.
We could say to the person who had unexpectedly created such a poster: ” Oh well, look at that. You did create a very coherent picture here. Some people’s lives are so scattered and helter-skelter, that no image forms, but yours is actually a very strong statement. In fact, it’s the mighty-impressive, Greatest Ship Ever Built By Man, as seen in its most imposing position, from water level looking up at the beautiful bow, towering overhead. It is sailing on calm seas, with all three stacks belching black smoke. We can guess that it is loaded with many wealthy passengers, the high society of that time, and we can further assume that they are having the time of their lives in the ship’s fancy ballrooms. What we know of history tells us that this is the Titanic’s maiden voyage. At that very moment, it is the greatest ship in all the world, as the name implies.”
Now, up to this point, the newly-dead-one would be feeling quite good about himself, or herself. This all sounds pretty positive and very powerful. They might think: “Wow! I must really be Somebody, to have done such an accurate picture portrayal, just by living my life the way that I did; not knowing anything about the bigger scene that I was designing; yet to have created, each day of my life, one brush stroke, very accurately, of a great painting that actually makes sense and represents something on a Higher Plane. Wow! Hey, it really works. I must be somebody important!”
But then, The Analyzer goes on: “Now, we must consider what the figure of The Titanic represents. It is Man’s Ultimate Folly. This is a symbol of overweening ego and of a great disregard of the Laws of God. The Titanic was called the “Unsinkable Ship,” and yet it sank on its maiden voyage, in 1912, taking thousands of lives with it. It was excessive in every way imaginable. This ship represented the apex of wealth and glamor; and a belief in its invulnerability caused its architects to overstep the bounds of moderation and sensibility. Because it was never expected to be in the position of sinking, the designers left the interior bulkheads open at the top; so that when it did go down, water was free to flow to all of the compartments instead of being contained only in the breached one.”
Also, this egotistical blindness caused the builders to spur the captain on to excessive speeds in order to break the current sailing record between Europe and America. Additionally, it caused the crew and captain to overlook the warnings received in advance about icebergs spotted in the area. Consequently, the ship hit one of those icebergs and sank very rapidly, never even completing its maiden voyage. The Titanic could have been a great triumph of nautical engineering, serving long and well, giving pleasure to millions. But instead, it failed on a grand scale and now lives on in memory as an example of massive braggadocio and its flaming consequences. In fact, without even knowing the story of the Titanic, a skilled interpreter could discern its ultimate end simply by carefully studying the intimate details of this picture.”
July 21, 2009 – And here I will break this heavy-handed life’s lesson to those little toddlers, who may not even see those yellowed pages taped to the back of a familiar picture until they are teenagers or even adults. Next time, I’ll post the continuing analysis. In the meantime, go to Robert Silvers/portfolio/memorabilia and see all of his amazing work created with little bits and slices of life. Small moments that make up a significant whole.