Each week, we’ll look at another example of what I call a “moment of transcendence” – a scene from a show, a passage from a book, or anything else, that I find soul-piercingly resonant: joyful, sad, awe-inspiring, terrifying, or whatever. These moments are highly subjective, so you may not feel the same way I do, but nevertheless I’ll try to convey why I find the fragment so powerful. I hope we can enjoy it together.
On my computer I have a file called “Quotes.txt”. I’ve collected quotes over the years from all sources – novels, letters, diaries, TV shows, poems, Internet chat logs, even stuff that people have told me. I’ve probably got a couple hundred by now.
Among my favorites:
There is another world, but it is in this one.
I have very little information about this quote. It’s from Paul Éluard. I didn’t know anything about Éluard until this morning, when I looked him up for this blog post. Evidently he was a French surrealist poet, a friend of Picasso.
The quote appears to be genuine (Wikiquote has a source for it, and the original French) but I have no idea of the context. So I don’t know what it meant to Éluard.
I can tell you what it means to me.
To me, as an agnostic humanist, it says that magic is real, but it’s not opposed to the laws of physics.
When New Horizons crosses two million kilometers in under ten years and tells us a story of the most distant land we’ve ever visited, that’s magic – woven by a team of sorcerers who spent years in sorcery school, where they learned that some magic is based on math and articulated by computers.
When a Zen Buddhist meditates for years and attains enlightenment, it’s not because the spirit of some bodhisattva reached out to impart spiritual wisdom and knowledge (at least not in any literal sense). It’s because the practitioner has, through endless hours of disciplined focus, rewired their own brain to allow for a new perspective on life.
When I say that I love Betsy more than anyone on Earth, and she loves me, it does not diminish that bond to realize that it evolved as a survival tactic, a way of strengthening groups of animals. Love is what it is, and its mechanism does not tarnish its message.
The sacred is an emergent property of the profane.
See? A moment of transcendence – about transcendence. Isn’t that fun?