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Tuesday, 4 March 2014

When the Best has Come and Gone

What you're looking at is the inside of the Pantheon in Rome, constructed around AD 126 as a temple to all the Gods of Ancient Rome, but what's important is the dome of concrete--poured concrete, a technology that would be lost with the fall of the Roman Empire, leaving generations afterward scratching their heads in wonder at what their long-dead ancestors had accomplished.

I learned about the Middle Ages' serious inferiority complex in history class. For centuries it was widely held by Europeans, that the Greeks and Romans --Godless, sinful heretics that they were-- were the pinnacle of human ingenuity, whose achievements could never hope to be equaled by the modern world. 

This was the general train of thought until the enlightenment--that is, for well over a thousand years Europe was the equivalent of a depressed thirty-something hopelessly yearning for their youth. Most Medieval Europeans were too busy fending of plagues and hunger to really care about art history, and maybe that was why it was so easy to romanticize a bygone era, in the same way a jobless twenty-something looks fondly back at the carefree teenage years, which in reality were a nightmare. 

But in this case, not only had the best has come and gone, it was over before you were even born. I, at least, remember being a child at Disneyworld. Those poor bastards had to look at the Pantheon and accept that they would never know how it came to be there. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself, in the grand tradition of first-world over-thinking. The fact is, I am farsighted--literally- and I have astigmatism. It is a leap that only a privileged occupant of the first world would make, but there we have it. Five years ago I had 20/20 vision, and a lazy eye that was improving. No longer. It seems I have regressed.

And now I know what it means to be "old". I don't mean physically old, but intellectually so. That, is, this is the first time I've been faced with a disability that's not going to get better. Yes, I know blurry vision is not a particularly debilitating disability, but anyway, its something that's only going to get worse over time.

Which is to say, I've crossed a threshold. From the first twenty five years, when thing must only improve, and grow to their full potential, to the next sixty. It's all downhill from here, physically at least.

What does that do to one's state of mind? Unfortunately, we'll only find that out after the fact. In the same way that I now realize how body issues and low self-esteem held me back in high school, I sense that twenty years from now I'll examine how my fatalism has held me back. In the mean time, forgive me if I want to sort this out now before it becomes a crippling psychological condition.

But back to history. The Pantheon did not remain the largest dome in the world. In 1436 the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower took that title, but not with poured concrete. That technology was still lost more than a thousand years after it was used to construct the Pantheon, when the Cathedral was designed with a dome in mind. It took nearly 200 years to build. The designers belived that in the next century technology would advance to where it was a thousand years before (if not, they wouldn't be alive to answer for the disaster).   

Their faith was rewarded. Just in time to build the largest dome in the world at the time (still the largest made of brick) Filippo Brunelleschi invented "herringbone" and finished the Duomo. It wasn't poured concrete, but it worked. Eventually Europeans grew out of thier inferiority complex when the Enlightenment came along: It seems the most enlightening thing about that movement was that it forced people to recognize that what they thought they knew (women are just men who lack the "heat" to push their genitals out) was wrong. Thought that was certainly upsetting for some (married women whose husbands no longer believed they had to orgasm to produce children), I like to think it was liberating for everyone else, who now had the option of recreating their reality.

None of that applies to my health. So what does it mean, in my reality, to stare down the fact that you have peaked, physically? Put a lot of faith in your brain, I guess. Work harder and squeeze in as much productivity as you can before that too turns to mush. 

All things must pass. Consider now what will come to replace them.