Eighteenth century philosoper David Hume learned he was dying and so within an hour wrote an essay called “My Own Life.” It begins with comments on age and the elements.
“Last night I dreamed about mercury — huge, shining globules of quicksilver rising and falling. Mercury is element number 80, and my dream is a reminder that on Tuesday, I will be 80 myself.”
Elements and birthdays were intertwined for him since boyhood, when he learned about atomic numbers.
“At 11, I could say “I am sodium” (Element 11), and now at 79, I am gold.”
All this spins me off in a couple directions–first, into the countenance of age; the measurement of human life and lively celebrations of birth.
We are all moving into mercury and many of us have already arrived. Some finish before; some go no further. And it’s common, these day, to smash the barrier into a higher number.
David Hume mused on mortality and perhaps so should each of us. Because musing stops us dead, so to speak, allowing us to take stock of our own lives in a human–and Humean–fashion.
[As well as being an element, Mercury was the Roman god who escorted people into the Underworld.]
It also moves me toward philosophy itself. I have lightly, only lightly, studied it and pleasantly tangled myself into the cobwebs both as an adolescent and adult: two shockingly different ages and approaches to the discipline.
I want more time, always, to savour what I find. Reading philosophy requires slowing down mighty slow, slow like walking on the beach to a roar of water, or meditating high upon a solid cushion.
The art in the thought that is philosophy arrives as a gift. Hume knew this and offered it to us a handful of years before the French Revolution, when Europe leaned forward more deliberately onto the world stage and into history.
Tomorrow I turn 57. My birthday is July 14th: Bastille Day. I have always loved being a revolutionary baby–willing myself to storm the great walls obscuring my life.
Tomorrow I attain Lanthanum on the periodic table. This element means: To Lie Hidden. And for me, reading philosophy means rising up and stepping out from the cloud of sleep.
Tomorrow will be time to read philosophy.