Snippet 2: Grief and Loss
On a stroll today I pass a heavy oak bench I installed as a memorial on this Nature Reserve, shortly after I started as a Ranger here about 18 years ago. The woman I liaised with over the donation of the bench, its position and construction I remember well. Over the few phone calls and site visits with her to the reserve, she often gulped back recollections of the loss of her husband. The tenderness often welled up within her as we spoke. He died in his early 50’s.
When the bench was installed by a myself and a colleague I remember it was a cold, clear and sunny morning. The bench smelled as newly cut wood does, a pleasant aroma of sweet sugars and earthy tones. Its edges were sharp and crisp and it stood out in the muted browns and greens of the surrounding vegetation. It was heavy too. We struggled to get it to the position which involved strapping it to a sack-barrow and heaving it up and down some muddy slopes.
Over the years, the bench was used to rest and reflect by many walkers, the wear around the footfall becoming pronounced. Although I never met the lady again after the installation of the bench, I know she passed by occasionally as the engraved plaque would be polished and occasionally some linseed oil would be brushed into the exposed surfaces. I imagine she would sit and ponder the view across the lake and maybe reflect a little on the life with her parted husband. A series of reflective moments I hope would lighten and sooth the bitter grip of grief.
As I stop for a rest all the years later and take in the view as countless visitors have done before me, I notice the plaque is now burnished and there are 2 screws missing. The husbands name is still legible but the short engraved eulogy has faded and is difficult to read. The edges of the bench are finally giving way to the elements. Its youthful glow has given way to a muted grey and brown, equally beautiful, with moss adorning its crevices. It is still strong and robust. The trees and grasses have grown up around it, swallowing and enveloping.
I wonder where this lady is today, the widow who had to say goodbye to her husband prematurely whilst no doubt they had other plans. I assume the grief became tolerable as the need to tend and visit the memorial became less urgent and necessary, letting the bench slip into decay as the world swallows it up, moment by moment. It slowly became forgotten. Did she meet someone else or remarry? Did she already have children or move away to start a new life? Which dreams did she curtail and which ones were refreshed anew.
In those first and only meetings with her 18 years ago I’m sure she felt the rawness of grief would last forever. When grief has us in its grip we struggle to find any reprieve. It blinds us to all else, all other possibilities. Over time, it dissipates, eases and fades. The harshness fades into the recesses of our memories, gets locked away. There are moments which tweak the raw nerve and bring the feelings back to the forefront, but these become less often and decreasingly intense. We move on, learning to live again.
This bench is a reminder of a person who loved and was loved. A reminder of a wife, companion, friend and lover who has now moved on, who, despite the loss has the potential to build another life. A reminder that forgetting is sometimes a good thing, the vividness of grief has to pass into memory and be lost without guilt, otherwise we would be constantly consumed and paralysed. A reminder of the inevitability of death but also the hope of renewal for those that remain. A reminder that this life in finite, tender, precious and fleeting. A reminder that time moves forward however hard we try and slow it down.
The cold wind is picking up now and the trees that have grown up around the bench begin to sway. The geese chatter in the distance, the blue tits dart to and fro from a hanging feeder. I take a sip of water from my flask and walk on.
The illustration above shows a bag of creativity containing thousands of balls. Each ball represents a somewhat unclear or unknown technology that advances or influences humanity in a major way. A few examples of balls that have already been pulled from the bag may include petrol engines, the internet, flight and nuclear power. In amongst these technological balls is a black ball, representing the one time a technology that assures a very high number of people are going to die or even the complete destruction of humanity. This black ball is the final ball.
We, as humanity, continually pick balls out of the bag. We continually strive to create and develop new technology without too much consideration of its potential negative effect on the world. It’s only by chance that we’ve luckily avoided blowing ourselves up and not picking out the black ball.
We have been very close however. A good (or rather bad) example of a potential black ball from the past is the development of nuclear weapons. The drive to split the atom, to release and harness this massive energy and then through the Manhattan project, to develop weapons. This drive, step by step, by scientists to develop a bomb was largely unchecked and we soon find ourselves on a precipice of mutually assured destruction.
The checks and balances to police, restrict and protect the population of the world was left to chance. The proliferation of nuclear weapons was self limiting only because the technology and construction was specialised, expensive and time consuming which only a few countries could adopt. But just imagine if anyone could make a nuclear weapon with a bag of sand and a microwave.
So, if there was an easy, unfettered way to access the technology to detonate an atomic bomb, we could be fairly certain that it would have been used, even if just a small number of individuals would wish it. There are significant numbers that have radical religious ideals or ideological doctrines, mental illness, a dislike of the culture in which they live or insular, oppressive political dictatorships and their opposition and those that seek to extort and threaten. There are many reasons, unfortunately, that killing a large number of people seems like a good idea to a significant minority of the global population.
Today then, we do not have nuclear weapons as an immediate black ball. It was close, but thank goodness for chance. We are now continuing to pick out balls from the bag so who knows how technologies like artificial intelligence, digital DNA printing and synthesis, bio technology or the final effects of global warming and climate change will influence and effect us all.
The question is not so much whether we will stumble onto a technological black ball that wipes us all out but rather that we have nothing in place to reduce the risks or stop it if we do. How do we stop developing things that will kill us like the nuclear weapons in which we were literally a hovering finger away from destroying the planet. The measures could involve stopping or restricting the development of technology or ensuring there are just no bad people. we could also have effective policing and monitoring of individuals that could cause harm and intervene if action is required in a somewhat dystopian totalitarian future under an effective global governance.
Technology has and continues to be , in the most part, an incredible benefit to humanity. I’m sure we’ll continue to keep pulling out those technological balls with our current insatiable drive. Let’s hope we don’t find a black ball.
Listen to an outline of the ‘Vulnerable World Hypothesis’ by Nick Bostrom on the Sam Harris ‘Making Sense’ Podcast. The section on this starts at 28.30 minutes if you want to go straight to it.
Read the ‘Vulnerable World Hypothesis’ by Nick Bostrom. This opens a PDF.
Nick Bostrom’s website also contains other interesting articles.
A new album was released yesterday called ‘Reinventing Failure’ by No Side Effects, a musical collaboration with Tom Haynes of Grasslands and I as Two Short Planks. The making of this album has been a time of good friendship, long chats and plenty of laughs.
Along the way we have brainstormed together and I’ve worked hard to develop a strong series of images that reflect our music.
No Side Effects Logo
A variety of arrangements were used of the No Side Effects blue text with inverted D and F and two heads (notice the change in hair style!)
The Album and Singles Artwork
The designs below are the artwork for an initial run of 50 CD’s of the debut album.
There were 4 singles released from the album:
No Side Effects Website and Social Media
A blog based website was set-up. A collection of banners, images and illustrations were produced at various sizes specifically for the website and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. A home page at Bandcamp was also set up to sell music and merchandise. There are some screen shots below but please visit the website.
The concrete and roads around Swindon and Milton Keynes and Toms house provided the backdrops for 2 music videos. We also made a promotional video. These were made between us using various mobile phones and instant cameras which I then edited in iMovie for Mac.
A design and build project to develop a small office space and studio. The designs were created using Sketch Up on the Mac. The scale drawing was referenced throughout the 3 month build of many weekends and evenings.
A time lapse video captures the build, with music.
None of this would have been possible without Simon, a lifelong devotee to DIY whose patience was unwavering!