Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Intersecting Lines

You already know that find history's interesting to think about how things we read about in history books actually happened, and what people decades or centuries ago actually did, how they lived, and what trajectories of life brought them into contact to create the events that we study today.

If you think about it, history is composed of intersecting lines...the trajectories each of us makes as we move through life and time, cross each others paths, have our effects on each other, and move on to the next intersection. This was the basis of Thornton Wilder's classic novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, in which the Franciscan Monk Brother Juniper tried to trace the lines of five lives that intersected when the titular bridge broke and sent those five people to their deaths.

I thought about this recently while I was reading the mystery novel Evil for Evil, about young Irish-American army officer Lt Billy Boyle's investigation of weapons thefts and murder in Northern Ireland during World War II. At one point, Lt Boyle is interviewing one of his suspects, a man scarred by the horror of his combat experiences at the Salerno beachhead earlier in the war. Sergeant Brennan explains his theory this way:

"Do you want to know what matters, Billy?"


"Geometry. Intersecting lines. They're everywhere, you just can't see them. Right now, this very minute, there's a bullet in a case of ammo somewhere, maybe in a factory in Germany, maybe stockpiled in Rome. It's moving, slow or fast, but it's moving, and so are you. Sometimes you both sit for a while, but sooner or later, you move. They send us to some beachhead, and the Germans order more ammo. Think about it," Brennan said, drawing lines in the air. "You can't stop it. A German truck brings up ammo, including your bullet, close to the front. Another truck brings you up to the line. Now you're in your foxhole, maybe a quarter mile away. You and that bullet have traveled hundreds of miles, from different parts of the world, and now you're close. A Kraut sergeant brings a case of cartridges up to his platoon, hands them around. Another Kraut loads his rifle, all the while you're moving, just like that bullet, on a path to an unknown place."

"Intersecting lines."

"Yep. And that's the only place that matters. Where the lines intersect. Don't matter what country, because once they do, once you and that bullet finally meet up, you're nowhere."

Intersecting might our world be different if some lines didn't intersect, and others did? If Lee Harvey Oswald had gotten lost and couldn't find the Texas School Book Depository on November 22nd, 1963? If Mohammed Atta had never crossed paths with Osama bin Laden? If Adolf Hitler's parents had never met? If Agnes had found another parking place one February night instead of cutting me off and taking the one I was trying to fit my big American car into?

The old gunfighter's adage says that everyone has a bullet out there with his name on it...but what if...

Intersecting lines. An interesting idea, if you're into the "what-ifs" of life.

Have a good day. May all your intersections be to your benefit on this Saint Patrick's Day.

More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

The guy in that toon has quite a name~ Happy St Patrick's Day :)

Leslie David said...

Sounds like 6 degrees separation.What if I hadn't started ballroom dancing in 1983, hadn't gotten into government contracting when I got out of the Army because of the Federal hiring freeze, hadn't moved to Northern VA because as a contractor this is where the jobs are, if I hadn't met Michael Molina and he hadn't taken me to Studio One? I never would have met you.

Bandit said...

George Bailey

Mike said...

Do you remember this map?

Wv: trial - I can't think of anything for this.

allenwoodhaven said...

Great cartoon!

I've always liked the concept, taught by some religions and philosophies that EVERYTHING is connected. We may not see these lines but they are there and every piece of creation is tied to every other piece. It reminds me of cosmic string theory except in this one the universe is a like a big ball of yarn!

Melissa B. said...

I'm reading a war book, of sorts, too. Kurt Vonnegut's last epiphany. It's a collection of doodles and stories, most about his service in WWII. Top o' the Evening to ya!

Anonymous said...

Now I know why my line never intersected with a high speed object (up until now, anyway!); as you know my real name is almost as long as the one in the cartoon.

On the other hand, perhaps the ammunition factories should just mark the bullets, "To Whom It May Concern," converted to an acronym in true government fashion as TWIMC. This might greatly improve combat marksmanship.

Buddhists believe the lines intersect because of your Karma. What most people don't know is that Karma means, "Personality," not "Fate."

Eminence Grise