We are moved by the unmovable. We are drawn to places and objects that are not only older than us but will outlive us. They make us feel small and mighty simultaneously. But what is even more amazing is when something defies the laws of nature altogether. It cannot be defined by logic. Cannot be described with the dictates of the universe. It is just this “thing” sitting there in front of us, daring us to figure it out.
Edinburgh is a city like this – daring me to describe it with clarity and consistency. It is equal parts UNESCO World Heritage site and a normal town where college students drink too much at the pubs. It is 16th century homes alongside 20th century Brutalist architecture. More than that, Edinburgh is a city with a castle in the middle of it. Seated atop volcanic rock, Edinburgh Castle, literally, defies gravity by keeping watch over the town below without crumbing down. It is the unmovable that defies the laws of nature altogether. While in Edinburgh my mantra became – did you know that there is a castle in the middle of this city? Which is another way of saying – did you know that strange, perhaps, miraculous, things actually exist?
For me, Edinburgh will always be about Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume. It was David Hume who taught me about miracles. Hume was an empiricist who believed that the only things we know to be true are those we experience first hand. General rules and theories about the universe are fine as along as they can be proven “in the world.” So this is different than other philosophers who – for centuries – had been creating theories about how the world was theoretically connected by metaphysical ideas. David Hume was a “just the facts, ma’am,” kind of guy.
Although Hume’s point of view seems very tangible and practical, his strict empiricism creates an opening for something quite remarkable: the existence of miracles. Hume tells us that if you experience something out of the ordinary and other people corroborate your story, it is possible for the improbable to be real after all. That is to say, there is a possibility that miracles can happen. Yes, if you have witnesses, it is possible for the apple to fall up, for the Castle of Edinburgh to not fall down, and for me to be less survivalist and more contemplative, less anxious and more patient, less self-interested and more sharing while on a short vacation.
Just as important, however, is that you can begin to believe that others can be miraculous, as well. Your pre-conceived notions can be wrong. Your experiences to date have been faulty. Movie moments don’t just happen in movies. That, unassumingly, people step into your path like a castle that defies gravity and you can either chose to dispute the experience or accept the miracle like any other fact.
Art has always tried to blur the distinction between what is movable and unmovable, creating the improbable out of ordinary materials. While in Edinburgh and London, I was surrounded by places and art that sought to reconcile these disparate ideas. The most amazing was the fashion exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Looking at clothing from their collection reminded me of all the unnatural shapes and sizes we have made women’s bodies. How we have actually tried to defy gravity and form in order to develop a specific aesthetic. Historically, we have made women’s bodies mutable, giving them shapes and sizes that look more like buildings than flesh. Enjoy some pieces from the V&A Collection.