Monday, March 10, 2014

Cosmic Exhilaration and Anxiety

I don't remember a lot from my childhood. Perhaps not a lot has happened then or maybe I choose not to remember. Many of us don't have full recollections, only memories of memories; it is how the mind forms and matures. One of the few memories in sight and sound I do retain is of Carl Sagan on his "Ship of the Imagination" exploring a starry space to the sounds of the opening theme of Cosmos. I did not understand much, perhaps nothing at all, but I do remember a sense of wonder, sincerity and a subtle urgent importance.

Years later, I have re-watched, or perhaps watched for the first time, the entire series, this time as an adult. Watching it has touched me deeply, perhaps especially with the half buried memories of it and with understanding and a framing of many contexts I could not do earlier (it is, after all, dubbed "A Personal Voyage"). Each time I play the opening theme in my mind I can still sense that feeling of wonder that was there, a special kind of innocence I strove to preserve, not always successfully.

I have been in the US these past few weeks as part of an assignment from work and so was fortunate enough to watch live the newly made Cosmos, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It will take decades to see how the present series affects the children and teenagers growing with it today. The times and the generations have changed, and I cannot say if the medium and the way the message was chosen to be delivered are the best for the current audience (I'll need to ask my nephews). But as part of the 'older' generation, who can't really avoid the comparison (the first episode in particular, it seemed, carries with in it more than a subtle homage for Sagan and the original series) I think it was very well done and look forward for the next episodes. Tyson is perfect for the job and I think Sagan would have been proud.

Funny enough though, as eagerly as I was waiting for Cosmos to air throughout the trip, my day started in church. I am not a christian or any sort of theist for that matter, though, again, my childhood had some affect on me in this matter. Still, I have a strange fascination with churches. Whenever I'm abroad I dedicate a few minutes to sit quietly in a church or a cathedral (New York's St. Patrick's is a favorite of mine), watch the people around and try to absorb the atmosphere. Today (Sunday) I decided to attend an actual service so I put on my least travel weary clothes (one dresses up for Sunday, or so I heard) and went to a church in Brooklyn. I wanted a taste of an actual gospel immersed service, passionate choir, heated sermon and a devout congregation as I imagined it.

And this is also what I had received: friendly, open and welcoming people, thundering music (yes, a joyous noise), a not too long a sermon that was not illogical (for the most part) and a unique experience to take with me and reflect upon. Oh, and also a two hour long panic attack; being in a large hall surrounded by hundreds of people is not easy for an agoraphobic. Yes, I have anxiety (and related depression) issues.

What brought that up, though, is the Scott Stossel article from The Atlantic, that I only fully read today. It is indeed long, but it is also something I could have almost as easily have written myself, with the exception of a few points:
1. I have not been formally diagnosed or treated.
2. I have not taken any medications to deal with it.
3. I don't drink, so that can't numb me.
4. I never met the Kennedys.

How does it all come together? Stossel concludes his story and say that maybe anxiety also has its positive sides, that without it he would have been a different person with a different life. Personally, I think the 'tortured artist' image is far more romanticized than it ought to be, and that there are moments I would do quite a lot to be just a normal, anxiety free (or reduced) kind of a guy. Would I be different? Yes, but isn't that also kind of the point? To try to make yourself better? More free?

As I'm writing this I can still hear the echoes of that opening theme of the original Cosmos. I am tired, tomorrow is my last day in New York, and I already feel the sleep deprivation caused headache. But I am also reassured that I am still on that personal voyage, that I know what I am not (a theist, among other things) though I can appreciate what comes with it and its costs; and that I am still anxious for the road ahead.

I highly recommend the original Cosmos (available on DVDs and probably unofficialy on YouTube)

And the new series (It is Past time to get going again)

And some good old gospel/soul music: Mahalia Jackson - Trouble of the World

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