Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Beautiful ghosts

I had a kaleidoscope when I was a child. I think most people did. Mine was as basic as they came: cardboard tube, a couple of mirrors wedged in the base, and a handful of cheap plastic beads thrown in. I loved it though. A gentle tilt and the beads would shift and form a subtly different pattern. A more vigorous shake, and the composition would change entirely. Simple materials that produced an infinity of pretty glowing patterns, the first kaleidoscopes were made in the early 19th century and they are still made today.

Being a language nerd, I find the etymology of kaleidoscope as appealing as the instrument itself. As with ‘periscope’, ‘telescope’, and ‘microscope’, it is based on the Greek ‘skopos’  -  a watcher or observer. However the other two components in the word are what give it charm: ‘kalos’ = ‘beautiful’ and “eidos” = shape or form. A kaleidoscope is ‘an observer of beautiful patterns’ though personally I think of it as the “Look at the pretty things!” toy. And if you think that last translation is overthinking things, I can go one better. That middle component, ‘eidos’, is where we get our word ‘idea’ from. Even better, it is also connected to concept of the ‘ghost’ (or eidolon).

An observer of lovely ideas. A watcher of beautiful ghosts.

I told you I was overthinking.

On a more philosophical level, I find the kaleidoscope a great metaphor for life. It’s pop philosophy, but I like it. People are all kaleidoscopes. The plastic beads are knowledge, experience, and emotions. Everyday life will give you a gentle tilt or a vigorous shake and the pattern of each day will always be slightly different to the pattern of the days before it. Sometimes it’s the better parts of your life that are in view – those are the good days. Sometimes, the mirrors show a replicating pattern of the darker things and the day is filled with endless beautiful ghosts. However, even on the bad days a little ‘plastic bead’ of happy can mix with the gloomier array, just as on some of the best days, a dark ‘bead’ can give a sense of the bitter-sweet. The marvellous is mixed with the mundane, and we continue to add ‘beads’ to the mix.

Right now, my quotidian is rather more


I’m pretty sure that my life needs a vigorous shaking to bring a more pleasing arrangement into view. I’ve organised a few days’ personal leave next week to seek if I can shake away the ghosts (I say away, not off, for if you have such forms in your personal kaleidoscope, they are never really gone – just out of sight for a time).

As they say, “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel”,  or perhaps they meant to say “there are always beads at the end of the tube”?

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