Monday, June 28, 2010

Canada circa 1910

I was having a concise but important chat with someone yesterday, and we stumbled across some of the big issues; the roles of the state, the dangers inherent in nationalism, the issues of meaning and creation. I was reminded of similar chats I'd had with my father, and ones that he'd told me about that he had with my grandfather. I expressed the view that exploring things - doing battle with them even- is more important than the feeling of having found definitive answers.
This is a photo of my father's father about one hundred years ago in Canada. He travelled there and in the USA with his wife, retracing the places that meant a lot to his parents and her parents, but more than that, they were lifting their eyes above their normal horizon. They felt part of an international energy that sprang in various forms, with particular optimism in the 'New World' on both sides of the Pacific at the beginnings of a new century.
In the photo he is watering the horses in front of a huge bank of snow, or possibly a glacier, I don't know. I can see from his attitude (but mainly also what I know of him) that he is looking for the same stuff that many of us are looking for still. And that is why yesterday's conversation made me seek out this picture.
I wonder what he would make of this modern world, and I wonder if all our modern changes have altered in any substantive way the fact that engaging with unanswerable questions is the inescapable lot for curious people. And after a lifetime of looking and thinking, we may end up not really knowing any more than our grandparents did.
But I'd rather accept that than the artificial smugness and real dangers that come with the illusion of certainty.

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