‘Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.’ — Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky)
One of the most moving books I have read is Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. The book seems to go beyond words, into the very essence of the human experience; digging deeply and uncompromisingly inside the simplest yet most profound questions of life and the human journey. I read it at a time when I was questioning everything around me and re-defining my own life. The metaphor of the sheltering sky seemed poetic, yet so ironic. It was not until I had seen the sky in Australia that a new depth of meaning was revealed. Was Bowles witness to a similar sky when he paid a visit to Morocco? The sky that could never be seen in this way in my hometown of Dublin. A sky that rises so high, and bleeds into black, even during the daylight hours.
On the way to Melbourne, for the first time in 2005 – on the morning of what was to be a scorching 40 degree day I saw this sky in Gippsland. Of course I had forgotten Bowles’ stirring words quoted above, but much later, I recalled the impact of these words, and the connection to this image – for me at least.
I wake each day in my finite existence and knowingly forget what I know, because life has to keep moving and it’s easier to block out the haunting truth of the briefness of my time here. Just beyond the ‘sheltering sky’, lies an almost infinite space, the meaning of which can scarcely be grasped.