Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...

I've been a student of History for most of my life. Yes, astoundingly boring, but true. It began at a very early age when my parents acquired a fantastic historical book detailing thousands of significant events that had occurred over a period of 2000 years, along with an Atlas filled with beautiful photographs of places far and wide - among the many hundreds of books they had purchased over a short period of time.

I remember paging through this history book incessantly, fascinated up to my eyeballs at the various illustrations of events as they occurred over time. In the later chapters chronicling periods when camera photography was available, photographs were used instead of illustrations... photographs showing NASA's first venture into space and the first computer ever built, as well as people who changed the world... from Lenin and JFK, to Walt Disney and Elvis. Needless to say, I remained endlessly mesmerized and captivated by this book.

On other days, I would reach for the Atlas and stare stupidly at the pages, escaping through space and time, becoming hypnotized at the pristine images captured by the very best photographers in the world, desperately wishing to visit every place. Each country had a text box with summarized facts and figures, followed by in depth descriptions of their histories and socio-political-economic facts... it was like Wikipedia, but with pages and  pretty pictures.

I would read the pages completely at random and retain the most arbitrary information, often marrying the geographical demographics with facts I'd read about in the History book... 

The Lady of Shalott, an 1888 oil-on-canvas painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse, whose work is a representation of a scene from Lord Alfred Tennyson's 1832 poem of the same name, describing the plight of a young woman, loosely based on the figure of Elaine of Astolat from medieval Arthurian legend, who yearned with an unrequited love for the knight Sir Lancelot, isolated under an undisclosed curse in a tower near King Arthur's Camelot...

My mind played out on a reel, a list of places and their histories indiscriminately, like a movie. And I would spend hours, days even, wondering what it was like for people to grow up there, to live there, to love there, to have families there, to die there... wondering what they ate, felt, saw, heard, did... I spent many nights wondering if The Lady of Shalott was indeed real... did she really live near Camelot... was Camelot even real... what did she like, and what were her thoughts...

Of course, my questions were never answered and I could only come to conclusions based on my own assumptions. On top of that, my Mother was convinced that I was batshit crazy, always telling me that "living in the past is not going to help you succeed in the future"... and that I was "wasting my time and energy".

And maybe she was right, maybe not. Sometimes I believe that we have a lot to learn from the generations that came before us... that there are secrets lodged in the annals of time that can help us live better lives, perhaps even be better people. And there are times when I don't think there is anything left for us in those dark passageways but shady narratives of dusty cloudy stories detailing too many conflicts, wars, sufferings and losses.

They say that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I don't know about that because there seem to be many people that are well acquainted with the lessons, yet seem determined to repeat the mistakes out of their own free will.

Still, the most important lesson that I've learned looking back into the ever fascinating ether of what once was, is that everything ends, eventually. Every age, every eon, every golden era, every reign, every war, every moment - good or bad - will come to an end. And if we're extremely lucky, we will leave behind a name and a story... but for the most part, we will only ever be carried on the wind, fading into eternity. And thus, we are reduced to nothing, but dust.


  1. No, we are reduced to atoms which may then blow through the world, possibly becoming part of something or someone else. So, magic dust.

  2. I went through a Lady of Shalott phase too! But it was because of Anne of Green Gables (the movie version), which opens with Anne reciting verses of that poem. And she later tried to re-enact the scene (that you've captured above) from the boat.

  3. The Lady of Shalott! Oh, be still my heart. I love the poem, I love the picture and I love the song (have you heard it?) by Loreena McKennitt.


    (Tell me it doesn't give you the chills?)

    I personally love history. Local history is my passion.

  4. it was like Wikipedia, but with pages and pretty pictures... Love that line, it made me smile. The Lady of Shallot is one of my favourite poems - I'm sure you've obviously read it and as soon as I saw the picture I recognised it.

  5. I thought I (stress 'I ") was upbeat... but you've beaten me to it. How come we're talking about death again, Az? I keep making the same mistakes. What does that say about me. Hope you're doing a better job.

  6. Azul a pintura es maravillosa me gusta el arte,creo que vivir en cada època es diferente cada una tiene su historia cada època quiere tener culturalmente su propia personalidad e identidad por lo mismo rechaza todo lo que se hizo en la anterior como forma de reaccion.

  7. In a worldly sense, yes, we are reduced to dust and we leave behind our stories. But, if you believe in the Hereafter, the "end" is just the beginning...of eternity. That dust will re-assemble, and our actions and stories of the past will echo on as we move to that never-ending realm; for what we did back then will influence where we spend forever.

    Silly as it may sound, if I make it to Jannah, I would love to re-live many of the moments from this life - both my own history, and eras that I never lived in. Think of that 'holodeck' concept from the old Star Trek series. I want that - but for real...because in Jannah you can have anything you want :)

  8. For me, there's actually a little comfort to being reduced to dust and leaving nothing behind. There's no permanence and everything is a bat of an eye, particularly for the universe. And there's a sense of peace in that. I used to do the same thing with hardbound encyclopedias (remember those??)

  9. bizarre. I saw the lady of shalott this morning. and here you are writing about her. I love history too. at the same time I take solace in being impermanent and insignificant myself.

  10. Hope things are going as planned, cous.

  11. A woman close to my heart, you are! I also longingly looked at the world map, in an Atlas, thinking which countries I would visit, to see my pen-pals.