Thursday, January 3, 2008

Fragile existence

A few hours ago, I drove down to the village of Pont-en-Royans to drop in on my local physician, Dr Xavier Limouzin. He was as proud as a successful angler to have guided me wisely, over a period of several years, into an expert medical context in which early traces of prostate cancer have been detected. At a practical level, this means that I'll no doubt endure an operation in the near future. My youthful mustached doctor (a distinguished member of the local fire brigade, and an amateur of antiquated motor cycles) leaned back in his armchair and allowed himself to be carried away by the apparent beauty of such a surgical intervention: "It's an amazing two-man team effort. The urologist operates with a colleague. They showed me a fabulous video that demonstrates how it's done." In watching Dr Limouzin describe with enthusiasm the work of his specialized colleagues, I had the impression that I was maybe missing out on some kind of superb Spielberg production, and that I should order immediately the DVD through Amazon. "The only access they need is a tiny set of holes in the lower abdomen. Once they've got their tiny instruments inside, in the prostate region, it's beautiful to see the way they operate, as a team." OK, we're surely talking about a couple of Olympic ice artists such as Torvill and Dean, or maybe a Russian/American pair of astronauts repairing their space station. Maybe, I thought, this expert couple fiddling around so aesthetically in the region of my old-fashioned sexual apparatus might be attempting to create an artificial offspring, possibly a monster.

After bidding farewell to my adorable doctor, I was halted by a minor catastrophe at the exit of the village of Pont-en-Royans, on the road up to Gamone.

While I was chatting about prostate surgery with Dr Limouzin, a giant rock had fallen down from the Baret mountain (which I observe from my bedroom window). After the impact, which would have surely squashed any automobile that happened to be moving up the road at that instant, the rock disintegrated into several fragments, one of which halted on the other side of the road, while the others jumped over the parapet and descended into the Bourne. As my friend Natacha put it, with what I see as a Marseilles sense of judgment, when I told her this anecdote on the phone: "Obviously, for God, your hour of doom has not yet come." Thanks Natacha, thanks God.

Seriously, life is fragile. Isn't it? Beautifully fragile. That's what makes the whole thing so amazing... whichever way you look at it. Meanwhile, if I were serious, I would start to think about looking at things from the point of view of those two surgical artists whose skill consists of being able to eliminate the bugs and other cellular intruders in my lower belly.

Shit, when I think about it, if Limouzin's conversation had bored me, and I had left five minutes earlier, my fucking prostate might now me some kind of French pâté spread out over the macadam on the road from Pont-en-Royans up to Gamone.

I love life! It's so unpredictable. Lively, as they say.


  1. Thanks: a wonderful piece, as usual written beautifully. I have written a short plug for your blog on my own one: here:

  2. If this does not convince you of "His" existence, then nothing will, dear Bro. Next time you have a bug in your blog, try NOT doing the Hail Mary's and see what happens. Just kidding, you can't apply double blind control trials or any sort to the existence of "God", 'cos it's all a matter of a quantum leap of faith. But... I stil can't help thinking, when I read your powerfully moving story, how "He" moves in such mysterious ways!

  3. Anne Skye: I was relieved when you corrected instantly the suggestion that we humans can verify the effectiveness of Hail Marys by performing two tests upon identical situations, one with Hail Marys, and one without. The stumbling block, of course, is the concept of "identical situations". As Heraclitus said: "You cannot step twice into the same river, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you." And he sums up his vision of constant flux with one of the most profound and lovely declarations ever made by a mortal: "The sun is new every day." Between the initial test, with Hail Marys, and the following one, without Hail Marys, time has passed, and the world is no longer the same place. Even God has grown a little older. To put it roughly, He's no longer the same man He was a little earlier on. Has He grown wiser? Or has He maybe shown the very first symptoms of some kind of divine Alzheimer's? Has He simply changed His mind, for reasons that are known only to Him? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that God no longer repaired computer bugs of any kind, for moral and business reasons, because He realized that His interventions of this nature were unfair competition with respect to human specialists who depend upon fixing computer bugs to buy bread and shoes for their poor children. So, I see no way of testing the Hail Mary solution in a sound scientific style.

    Now, your metaphor of a "quantum leap of faith" is another kettle of fish. I hasten to add that I would be disappointed to learn that you were using the expression "quantum leap" merely as a synonym for "big"... which it isn't, since quantum leaps are infinitesimally small, between one shell of orbiting electrons and a neighboring one, either up or down. Within the context of David Deutsch's fascinating conception of parallel universes, founded largely upon a certain way of interpreting quantum physics, it's perfectly conceivable that an individual's decision to have faith in God could be the outcome of a certain quantum value. [Don't get me wrong. I'm talking merely of an individual's having or not having faith in God. I'm certainly not talking of the hypothetical existence of God.]

    Finally, you evoke the sentiment that our Cosmos behaves "in mysterious ways". I couldn't agree more with you. For a long time, up until the arrival of quantum theory, the scientific outlook on things was rigorous, logical, austere, Cartesian, cold, calculating, etc. In a nutshell, relatively simple for an agile mind, but as boring as hell. Then quantum theory upset the old Newtonian apple cart. Quantum theory is so extraordinarily bewildering that I wonder constantly whether I've truly understood the first word of it. Be that as it may, overnight, science became a synonym for Lewis Carroll's wonderland, since it encouraged us to explore the weird nature of things as they are seen through the looking-glass provided by intellectual tools of a new kind. Today, the challenge of scientific researchers, scholars and thinkers who wield these new tools consists of attaining what they often refer to as the theory of everything, referred to by the acronym TOE. I consider your "quantum leap of faith" as nothing more than the use of slightly different letters: GOD. But there's a significant detail: Those who talk today about TOE know what they're talking about...

  4. Greetings William - I've finally found the time to access your blog.

    Interesting musings. I'm afraid I'm a card-carrying atheist. My poorly formed arguments on the matter were galvanised by the writings of Richard Dawkins - in particular, "The God Delusion". He's too extreme for many, I gather.

    Prostate as pate? An unsavoury thought indeed.

  5. Hi william,

    It is exactly 9.27am , this days i play the baby sitter for a friend of mine who's not in town ...
    When i dropped him at school this morning, i came back home and check my e.mail like usual . Then i decided to check antipode and stopped on "fragile existence". What a laugh i had, that true , life hang on ... "fuck all..."
    Whatta doctor you have , in a way this doctor is showing you good movie without even having to pay the fee as you would have at the cinema.
    Without knowing himself, he's maybe not far from surely to have save your life from a massive rock!!!
    Waaoooooo... I guess that Choranche doctors have power to see what most of us cannot see or feel.
    Life is fragile as you said , no doubt...
    But no , not this time , you ain't gonna finish as a Aussie pate served on a home made truffle plate .
    Oh boy i miss le Rocher de la Cornouse (sorry if i ve scratched the name) and those Tobacco road time...