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About birthdays, love, planets and viruses

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

(This text appeared originally as a post on Facebook, on October 29, 2020.) Dear friends, some more reflections and musings on the occasion of my birthday the day before yesterday, and the beautiful wishes I received. I hereby share a photo of the planet I have spent the past 54 years on, in the special company of all of you. I think it's a special and moving photo, taken on October 2, 2017. Since the day when the first human-made device left the atmosphere of our planet and with it the first step of man into space, many images of the Earth have of course been made. Most of those images were taken from much closer range: from the "low orbit" a few hundred kilometers above the surface of our world - the distance the International Space Station orbits along with many other satellites. These images show another large, massive planet, close by and still overwhelming in its presence. A bit like the image from an airplane, but a lot higher. There is an overview, a wide panorama and a penetrating beauty, but we are still close and the planet still looks reassuringly large. Then there are the images taken from a little further away, from the geostationary satellite orbits some 30,000 kilometers from the Earth's surface. We now see the entire planet as a sphere in space, with all the details of cloud fields, oceans and continents, the full color splendor and the amazing shapes and patterns that emerge. But the sphere still fills a large part of the image and although we already have a suspicion of the fragility of this world in the vast space, the image still somewhat confirms the solidity and size of our living world. Then there are the images taken from "deep space", so very far away, from Mars or from the large gas giants in the further regions of our solar system such as Saturn, Jupiter and Uranus. Then we only see a speck, barely perceptible, tiny in the endless black. That is already a bit too far to feel a connection with it, too abstract, and therefore not that significant to us. Like a distant second cousin whom we haven't seen or heard from in forty years and who lives in Patagonia. This photo is situated somewhere in between. It is an image taken by the ESA probe OSIRIS-REx on its way to the asteroid Bennu, where the probe landed in 2018 to collect soil samples and return them to Earth, where it is expected to return within three years. The photo was taken from a distance of 5 million kilometers from Earth. This image touched and moved me more than most other images of the Earth I have seen before. The distance is now great enough that you truly begin to feel the nothingness and fragility of our world in endless space, but on the other hand it is still close enough to glimpse and suspect the beauty of our home world. If you zoom in a bit on the image of the planet, you can still see the blue of the oceans and the white clouds, and you still get the beautiful image of the "blue marble" that we are familiar with. We still see and feel this fragile beauty, but we also feel the terrifying emptiness and inhospitable icy infinity of the space that surrounds us, the scale of which is actually incomprehensible and elusive to our tiny human brains. This is it, dear friends. This is all we have. This is the world that gave birth to us, that gave us life, that is our mother and our home. A very small planet that has a very small and very fragile zone that we call "biosphere", the zone in which life is possible. This zone extends from a depth of only a few meters in the Earth's surface (with the exception of bacteria that occur to a greater depth) to a height of five kilometers in our atmosphere. In the oceans it reaches to the bottom, even to the deepest points like the Mariana Trench with its depth of eleven kilometers. All in all, a shell of less than twenty kilometers, wafer-thin and by cosmic standards just as small and insignificant as an electron or a quark on our scale. Everything takes place in this shell. In this wafer-thin zone on a miniscule world, nearly eight billion people share their lives with each other and with all other living things that inhabit our planet. All my 54 years of life have taken place in this small but wonderful world, and here I have met all the people who have been significant in my life. And perhaps we can say that every encounter in our life is meaningful. In any case, I don't think there has been one person with whom I have had a meaningful contact from whom I have learned nothing or who has had no impact on my life, however small at times. I have had the good fortune and privilege to meet so many beautiful people, in those 54 years, in the first place of course my love Agnes and our two sons Elias and Maarten and their partners Amélie and Lateesha. But also so many people, some of whom I may call 'friends' and others 'acquaintances', two labels that have their limitations but can conveniently help distinguish between the different degrees of love and intimacy we share. with the people we meet in our lives. Love, the word has fallen. Perhaps (probably, no doubt, of course) love is the very essence of the life of the 7.8 billion people who live in this tiny world. 7.8 billion souls in search of receiving and giving love. Neither always go smoothly in this life in this small world, and for some living a life is an agony. Happiness and love, like material resources, are not always evenly distributed among the beings who seek the fulfillment of their happiness and their love in the small zone called the "biosphere". For the undersigned, many of the 54 years on the clock have been marked by small and big difficulties, obstacles and challenges in this quest to receive and give love. I have to plead guilty to many misjudgments, mistakes, ignorances, weaknesses and shortcomings. Moments of poignant lack of courage, honesty and integrity. Moments of groping blindly, harming other beings through my careless and self-centered attempts to assert myself an identity that did not suit me. And without the beautiful creatures I have met, I would not have been able to learn some much-needed lessons that have brought me to where I am today. Still far from enlightened and fulfilled, but nevertheless possibly a little bit further down the road to some sort of beginnings of some intelligence and possibly even - hopefully - a little bit of life wisdom, and compassion for myself as well as for my fellow human beings. And a little bit further on the way to being able to receive and give love. I am only at the beginning of the road, it feels like, and that is a nice feeling to cherish at the age of 54. Of course nobody knows what to expect, and possibly 54 is the number that will be the final in my life walk. We do not know when our time will come to start another life. And in these times there is almost none of the 7.8 billion souls in this small world, in that wafer-thin shell called the "biosphere" that has not come much closer to realizing our mortality and the reality of death. Because that now also connects all beings on this little blue planet in endless space: we are all susceptible to this microscopic being that has chosen to start using us as hosts. Until now it lived in nature just like us, and was part of a biotope where it caused no damage. Now that it's transitioned to a biotope that wasn't ready, it's causing "damage" - from our perspective. The virus is not aware of any harm and just does what it does: multiply nicely and discover new environments. It has started a real world tour and it seems to feel great all over the world! It therefore looks like it will permanently establish itself all over the world. And we will have to adapt to that forever: we will share our biotope with a new companion, and we will have to find a way to live together. In a metaphor of war and battle, the virus is often referred to: “the fight against an invisible enemy”. Invisible yes, but enemy? That implies some kind of malicious intent in this organism, as if it is intentionally trying to harm us. On the contrary! It wants us to live. A virus has nothing to do with a dead host or hostess, if it loses life it also means its own death sentence. No, this new guy likes us and wants to live in all of us. That's quite a far-reaching form of intimacy, actually: it wants to enter all of us and make its home in all of us. If our body gives up after an encounter with this virus, it is usually not even due to the virus itself, but due to an exaggerated reaction of our body to that new presence. It is our immune system itself that kills us. A kind of exaggerated and slightly hysterical reaction from our system, which starts to produce so much fluid in our lungs that we drown in them - literally. If our bodies look a little more relaxed towards the new companion, it apparently works out on its own in most cases. Possibly - probably - a vaccine will make it possible to protect ourselves against the too intrusive presence of this enthusiastic new world traveler. Possibly - probably - a peaceful way of living together will be possible in the future, in which we adapt more to each other's presence. But for now, living together is very difficult, forcing a lot of the 7.8 billion souls on the little blue sphere to stay indoors (if you have a house) and keep their distance from the other souls, including the ones they have a lot of. to love. The quest to give and receive love takes on a completely different dimension in this new situation, which can also trigger a new realization of the inestimable value of that love. And we can all lose one or more of our loved ones during this time, which also makes us realize that love is all that matters, after all. We can also lose our life ourselves. When I get this new guest to visit my body at the age of 54, it can go in any direction: with a lot of luck not a single symptom, with a little luck just a severe flu, with a bit of bad luck a passage to the hospital and with a lot of bad luck even along the intensive care unit with an artificial coma, and with a lot of bad luck the end of my life on this planet. It can really go in any direction. The chance is greater that it will still end well for me, but there is a good chance that it will end badly. And worse, we can lose the souls we love most. So far I am fortunate that none of my family members and friends have had this new companion visit in his / her body, but many months of uncertain coexistence with this virus await us before we can start a job. affect the protective effect of a vaccine. My father is 92, in good health, and completely sharp-minded, and still spry and full of life, and I hope to God that he may be free from uninvited guests in his tough body. Some of my good friends belong to high-risk groups, and it could turn out really bad for them to have a close encounter with our new companion. And yes, our friends who are relatively very young and in perfect health cannot be absolutely sure that their bodies will not suffer very badly or even suffer permanent damage if they contract this new disease. It does make me aware of a lot of things, and that is perhaps what could be the best possible 'side effect' of our new companion: that we all become much more acutely aware of the value of our lives and that of our loved ones and that of our everyone in our small world. And the value of all other living things with whom we share the planet. Because if love is the essence of our life, then not only the love for the other people with whom we share this little world, but also the love for all the life in this world, and for that little blue world itself. You could say that we have lost sight of the love for this small and fragile world in that endless space: so busy with our own concerns and our small and large dramas in our quests for the giving and receiving of love, that we that beautiful mother, this being that nourishes and clothes us and gives us light and warmth, have come to be seen no longer as a living being but as a lifeless lump of raw materials with which we have no essential connection and which we may use and abuse to our heart's content. It has become a loveless relationship, and loveless relationships don't usually end well. American author and climate-thinker Charles Eisenstein has it right in my opinion when he says that we are not going to solve is called the crisis in that little zone "biosphere" more technological "fix" more rational interventions in an infinite complex whole of interwoven life, but only by falling 'in love' with our world and our home again. Because now our loveless behavior is having a bit of the same effect on the planet as the virus does on us: we cause mass death among all living things and biotopes, and we damage the biosphere of our homeworld and all living things on it that can be irreparable could be if we don't completely change course soon. From the standpoint of most other living things on our planet, we are the harmful virus right now. And we act like a harmful virus because we have completely lost love for our world, our home, and our mother. Or perhaps not lost, but have reasoned away and degraded to the fringes of our consciousness, from a misunderstood kind of "rationality". Who the hell is rational about his / her loved ones? No, when we love someone, love tells us what to do, and not rational judgment, sophisticated strategy or political balance. We have come to see that little blue world no longer as a miracle to love, but as a bank account, a depository, an inanimate object and an ultimately soulless backdrop for our quest to compensate for the lack of love in our lives. That is not going to end well. Sooner or later, our world will develop a vaccine against us, some say. I don't think so, because if we basically love this world, even though we may not feel it right now, then this world loves us too. And that love is that of a mother, it cannot be otherwise. If the story ends badly for us, we will only owe it to ourselves. And possibly the other beings on this planet will not dance on our grave when we as a species are gone, but will mourn for a missed opportunity, an unfulfilled promise, and an unrealized possibility of love and awareness of the unlikely miracle that these small world. And it may then be up to another species in many millions of years to try again, possibly with greater success. But for now it is still up to us, the ball is still in our camp, that of homo sapiens sapiens, and we are not lost yet. There is still that opportunity and the invitation to fall in love with our world again. And let us take advantage of this time of standing still and be brought back to a realization of our love for our fellow human beings, to also begin to allow and feel our love for our world. If that can happen, if this difficult time can be an initiation and hasten the return of our love, then all those souls who have now left our world because their bodies couldn't cope well with our new companion, will have lost their lives maybe for good reason. In any case, I hope to be able to stay in this wonderful world for many more years and to be able to continue my quest for the giving and receiving of love in your company for a long time to come. I wish you all and your loved ones the very best in the difficult times to come, and thank you again for the beautiful wishes you sent my way on my birthday. It is a privilege to be in your company! Take care of yourself and each other and stay healthy! Lots of love, Filip


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