It was a lovely October morning and I was rubbing tombstones at Campo Cestio. The textures that were surfacing were so exciting that I didn’t mind being covered with graphite. I was lost in my own world until I heard a woman sobbing which wasn’t strange in a cemetery but her sobs were so agonizing that I turned to look at her. Save for the lines of sorrow etched on her face, the woman was rather non-descript and dressed totally in black. Discretion usually is my forte but there was no way I could let that woman suffer alone. So I walked over to her and gently put my hand on her shoulder. ”Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked. She looked up at me and for a minute didn’t move. Then she put her arms around me and, with her head on my shoulder, cried her heart out. ”My son,” she cried, “My sweet little William is buried here. He was only three years old.”
That was the beginning of my friendship with Mary Shelley. It was 1819 and Mary, along with her husband Percy, were part of Lord Byron’s entourage moving around Europe. Mary and I often had tea together and enjoyed confiding in one another (I got the feeling she sometimes needed to get away from that weirdo Byron). Her life was so full of tragedy. She had already lost another child and her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, died only a few months after her daughter’s birth.
Mary had recently published a story about Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who, like a god, wanted to create life. So he re-animated a corpse using components of other bodies and created The Creature. But The Creature was so ugly that no one wanted to be around him. And when The Creature saw his reflection in the water, he himself was repulsed. Rejection transformed him into a monster inside and out who, unable to inspire love, vowed to cause fear and became a serial killer. He even killed Elisabeth, Victor’s wife. Crushed by his wife’s death, Victor said ”Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
That night I had difficulty sleeping as I saw monsters everywhere. I’d been thinking about what Frankenstein had said about change. Of course the change he was subjected to was extreme and unexpected. But not all change is negative.
Even if it sometimes seems monotonous, life is an unavoidable sequence of constant changes. As with Heraclitus’ panta rhei, from the outside you see the river as static because, unless you step inside of it, you can’t feel the flow. Change requires reconfiguration because what was is not always compatible with what is.
Some mental habits are totally obsolete whereas others simply need to be rearranged. The important thing is to get started. Because, once the stone is launched, one ripple leads to another.
(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)