A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Horror Of Birth - The Philosopher Opines
Monday, August 24, 2009

I don't believe in God, but I miss Him. That's what I say when the question is put. I asked my brother, who has taught philosophy at Oxford, Geneva and the Sorbonne, what he thought of such a statement, without revealing that it was my own. He replied with a single word: 'Soppy.'

nothing to be frightened of, Julian Barnes

The euphoria of thinking he was well again led my friend Abraham to over extend his confidence. He fell in his kitchen on Sunday morning. At emergency they confirmed his suspicion that he had broken his hip. The rosy news was that the break was not a clean one. A chip showed up in the X-ray. This would mean that an operation is not necessary. What is necessary is a four week confinement in bed. For a man of energy this will not be easy.

So we spoke of death and Abraham the philosopher pointed out to me that death is certainly nothing to be afraid of. He said, “I can reach over to the wall and turn off the switch on the wall. That’s death. What is fearful is birth. Consider being nice and warm surrounded by amniotic fluid in a nice dark place with not a care in the world. Suddenly it all ends. You are ejected from it and emerge in a noisy environment full of bright lights. To make it all worse you are spanked and you begin to cry.” Abraham looked at me and almost shouted, “That is something to fear!” With a smile on his face he told me of a doctor he once met who made being born a quiet and low light affair. These newborns were not spanked and most did not cry. “He was a smart doctor. The rest are just plain dumb.”

I was not about to argue or disagree with a man who is not well. Isn’t the slap supposed to force the baby to breathe? Isn’t breathing life?

I have my own simplistic theories. One of them is based on the human penchant, or obsession, with symmetry. We observe we are born with nothing and that we die, leaving with nothing. We like to see the symmetry of birth and death. I have gone a bit further and noticed that Alzheimer’s is sort of a reverse birth. We are born with no consciousness that we are aware of (or at least of a consciousness we do not remember we had) and at the end of a life, when Alzheimer’s sets in we fade away in a similar manner. There are obvious differences. Before we are born there are those nine months. Alzheimer’s can take years and bad cases affect families terribly and tax our government care centres. Alzheimer’s could be nature’s way of showing us that symmetry is a common reality.

But for every case of symmetry in nature there are examples of asymmetry. Our faces, our heart’s placement, they are asymmetrical.

Abraham commented to the resident orthopedic surgeon that in his case he had an active and alert mind that could not convince the body to let go. The orthopedic surgeon gently countered that, “Here in emergency that is countered by another one, that of the good body that cannot let go of the slipping mind.” I thought of those two as an odd example of symmetry, of sorts.

I also thought that if Abraham is going to be confined for four more weeks I am going to learn a lot more about death and birth, in no particular order.


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