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The man who discovered forever

If you were ever to ask old Jack Henke about it, he’d go all modest and dismiss any such notoriety about his discovery, and say;

“I wouldn’t say I actually discovered it, because it was already there! … Had been all along … like penicillin … or Australia … they were always there, but someone just recognised the fact. I just happened to be in the right frame of mind at the right time.“

Pressing further on the subject, he confided that he had to give some credit to a couple of Mormons who by chance came down his drive way at the very moment he was pondering on the word ‘forever’.

“I was weeding around a nice batch of flowers in the garden, flowers with the curiously named “Live Forever” … I think some would call similar flowers “Everlasting daisies” … I suppose everlasting and forever are the same meaning … and I was pondering on the creation of the word ‘forever’ … not in any deep-thought way, just letting the word roll around in my thoughts while I weeded … you know the feeling … we all do it quite often. And these Mormons came straight toward me, one with his hand outstretched holding a printed pamphlet. He held it to me as if to give it away and then when I took the paper he held it still and with his other hand pointed, in silence, to the printed phrase at the top. It said; “ In the beginning there was the word.” I released the pamphlet to and politely dismissed them from my interest … but that phrase “in the beginning“ stuck in my head, along with the other mystical word; ‘forever’.”

Jack paused … considered his next words and then surprisingly asked:

“Are you a gambling man, George?”

I had to confess that I had such little faith in the chances of Lady Luck smiling in my favour that I had never wanted to place my hard-earned money in her hands. Old Jack smiled gently …

“Then you have never felt the soft kiss of fortune nor the hard slap of fate … But you have gambled none the less, for what else but a wager with social politics would get you such a career? … Good education? … Chance appointment? … The right place at the right time? I would think the latter played a very important risk factor in your life ambitions … a day late, a missed train, a stopped watch, a flat tyre … a horse-shoe nail … all these can alter the entire track of one’s life.”

Jack sat back in his comfortable chair and sipped at his tea before re-telling his story.

“When I was a young bloke and liked to “play the ponies” as we used to say, I had very plain luck at picking winners … but one day I accidentally and temporarily hit on a winning method of picking the horses. Becoming sick and tired of “form picking” from the guide, I decided to try another … more loose and carefree approach … a riskier option. Working on the proposition that there are approximately 12-15 horses in a regular race, I got a deck of cards and randomly flipped over a card and put a win/place on that number … with 11-12-13-14 for Jack , Queen, King, and Joker … for each race … and would you believe it? … I started winning! … Daily doubles, even a couple of trifectas! And individual races … lots of them … I kid you not … not big winners, but it was good enough … I was only a penny-punter after all. But … now here’s where the Human Failing came in … after this initial good fortune had become an expectation, I altered the methodology. Now, having turned over the card, I would then check its form in the race guide … and if it was such a long-shot outsider, I would choose another … so then the corruption crept it … as did the doubt … it was the old “Silken Ladder” moral all over again. I tried to resurrect the system, but my doubt rose and my courage failed … and I would over shuffle the deck of cards, I changed from the cards to numbers on slips of paper picked out of a tin … trying to once again grasp that elusive Goddess of Fortune … but to no avail, I had betrayed the gift of luck and now had only the deserved, futile company of hard fate. And I have to say by this time I was getting older and thinking of marriage … and life got the better of me and I gave the punting away … but it did give me a clue to a much wider knowledge of patterns of chance … in that the secret pattern of chance is; the fact that it has no pattern … and there is where the pattern lay, ie; you cannot play chance as a pattern, but you can play it using random choice as your pattern … if you get my meaning … because sometimes the best thing to do in a chancy situation is to do nothing, for there are so many variables in life operating all at the same time, there is sure to be the chance that something will intervene as much in your favour as against it.”

I must say that while I could see a vague perception of where old Jack was going with this information, I was wondering if it did have anything to do with his theory of ‘Forever’. I was soon enlightened to this fact when he moved the conversation back onto the subject.

“It was the chance meeting of those Mormons and the one pointing to those words from Genesis that set me on the road to the discovery of forever. Those Mormons would’ve gone to the front door and spoken to my good lady if I had not been there in the garden … if I had been in my shed, which is where I was before taking a break to come to weed the flowers, I would not have had that trigger sentence to give me the clue … that; ‘In the beginning … ‘.”

A care attendant came into the room at this juncture and placed a plate of food on the table. It was lunch time … I dismissed myself from Jack’s company so as to let him eat in peace. He thanked me for my time and said we can continue the discussion later.

There was never to be any “later”, as old Jack Henke passed away peacefully in his sleep that very night.

It was several days later that I had opportunity to make an appointment to visit Jack, only to be told by the aged-care nurse that he had passed away. I was surprised and saddened by this news as I had wanted to talk further on his interest … and mine now too … of the “discovery of forever”. However, luck, of a kind was at hand and the station nurse touched my arm as I was about to turn away and held out a large notebook to me.

“Here, Doctor … Jenke, he asked that this be given to you if anything happened to him.”

“What is it about?” I asked automatically as I took the notebook.

“Not sure,” she answered … “but it is in his own hand-writing, so it may have something to do with his strange interest in the obscure.”

“The obscure?” I queried.

“Well … it had to be something like that I suppose, judging on his somewhat cryptic replies he’d give to commonplace questions.”

“Like?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh … nothing in particular, just that … well if you asked if he’d like to go out for a bit of air, he would sometimes shrug and say; ‘Out, in, up down inside out and all around … who will laugh at the tumbling clown’ … that was one of his favourites … and another one was his asking any new carer if they knew the secret of forever. He’d always grab the attention of a new carer with that one. I mean, it has an attraction of curiosity about it, doesn’t it? But he never did tell his secret.”

I must have frowned at this seeming innocent jollity from old Jack, because the nurse then blushed a little and said that well, he was a little different from the other clients .. they never said anything like that! I inquired of the nurse what Old Jack’s occupation was when he worked for a living and was surprised to hear that it was in the trade of joinery.

“A joiner?” I repeated, surprised as he seemed more well-read than most tradesmen I have spoken to. I made this observation to the nurse.

“He read a lot of books,” the nurse informed me … and added that those books had been given already to the home’s op-shop for resale.

I thanked the nurse and made my way to my office to examine the reports of my day’s patients. I placed the notebook in my briefcase to take home for a more relaxed perusal later in the evening.

At home after a long day, the penumbra of a winter’s evening fading with the last light, I stoked the wood in the fire to a satisfactory warmth and settled back with a glass of Muscat handy to my reach and with the soft but ample glow of a standard light behind my shoulder, I sank into the broad reach of the sofa chair and opened the hard-cardboard cover of Jack Henke’s notebook.

It was quarto-sized, of approximately one hundred pages. The covers were of a thick, firm cardboard, covered with a pattern of false marbling with a red cloth binding. It opened to a well-written text, in a carefully scripted hand, as if wanting to be clearly understood by a strange reader.

In the first pages, there were two sketches of what looked to be mechanical descriptions of enactments for the, in the first, raising of building stones for the constructions of a pyramid … as in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and in the other, the raising of one of those huge solid stone obelisks … also, I believe, of ancient Egypt.

I am wont to go into too much detail of those drawings and the simple notes that accompanied them, sufficient to describe them such:

The pyramid drawing described the lifting of those heavy stones from what looked to be a ramp that took them to around a third height of the completed pyramid and from there a slide that ascended up the rest of the height that the stones were elevated upon using a lubrication of mud on timber skids set parallel to each other up the side of the structure … and hauled up by ropes that were pulled through a wheel … much like those cables seen through huge wheels on pictures of old mining operations in the English Midlands of the nineteenth century. These ropes were hauled upon by what looked like many men descending down the slope of the pyramid while the stone went up … much like, I ascertained from notes in the side column, the sash of a casement window being counter-weighted by the sash-cord tied weights in the side casement of that window. A side note indicated that enough men were used that counter-weighted the stone because they were the only “counterweight” that could ascend and descend repeatedly of their own volition to work the principle of weight-counterweight. Whether such a principle would work I leave to an engineer to peruse.

The second sketch showed one of those large obelisks on its side, with just over half, the lower half, protruding over the sharp edge of a ramp but attached to what looked like a quarter-circle wedge of a wheel-cradle, made, as old Jack indicated, of huge wooden lengths and of four short, stout spokes. There was an algebraic ‘X’ denoting both the measured length of the circumference of the cradle’s arc from the lowest point of contact with the ground to the foot of the obelisk resting on the upper lip, then from that same first point of the cradle, to where the obelisk would sit on a plinth already sited on the earth nearby. A high, formidable tower stood on the immediate far side of that plinth that would site and stabilise the obelisk temporarily when it was raised to its zenith. Stout ropes first soaked in water tied the obelisk to the cradle so that when dried, the ropes would shrink and fix the two together in a tight, rigid bind enough to secure the obelisk from slipping from its bed while in motion.

I studied the principle of the mechanics of the raising of the obelisk and I have come to the conclusion, in accordance with Jack’s notes, that once a chock is pulled out from the base of the cradle, the weight of the lower section of the obelisk would slowly fall in a controlled motion of the arc of circumference of the cradle, following the laws of gravity till it picked up enough momentum and force of speed with the arc of the cradle controlling both speed and accuracy of direction, to allow with using the obelisk’s own falling weight as the source of energy to assist the lift of the complete obelisk toward the huge frame that would secure it in place while a coordinated crew of workmen would swiftly chock and then cut the binding cords of the cradle so that the obelisk would not be encumbered with its extra weight once it reached its peak position, quickly secured with ties to the tower.

I am not an engineer, so will have to leave the calculations of these two extraordinary documents to those who can confirm or deny their competency. But given the numerous theories put forward for both these subjects, I can but give old Jack the benefit of the doubt that he can compete with other orthodox explanations.

But it was in his notes on the subject of “Forever” that I had the most interest and it is there that I will trust in his own words to relay to you, the reader, the basis of his discovery.

“It was the most extraordinary of revelations … perhaps best described as a “road to Damascus” moment. I had just returned inside to my workshop from weeding some flowers and having been accosted by those nuisance religious folk proselytising for their absurd religion. I turned to resume my attention to smoothing a length of pine I had fixed in the bench vice for use as a shelving frame in the pantry. It was a clean length, meaning no knots or other defects that sometimes mar timber mass-produced and sold in the bulk merchandise warehouses in the suburbs. I had selected the timber myself, seeking the cleanest lengths from the shelf there.

I adjusted my sharpened smoothing plane and started to shave off the milled edge. I had taken a couple of runs to get the rough off, and then to give the timber a smooth, sharp-edged finished, I ran the plane straight along the entire length in one smooth cut, the shaving peeling back in a flowing curl, ribbon-like, to fall complete to the work-shop floor. It was that moment, that shaving curling like it did and the crisp sound it made as it peeled away from the timber … like the sharp, crisp zizzing sound made with the tearing of a piece of fine rice-paper… and the gentle scent of the wood … it was magnificent!

I made a couple more passes of that length of timber just to hear and see that perfect moment. I then picked up one of those complete curls from the floor, sat in a chair nearby and just stared at it … the words; “in the beginning” and “forever” suspended above my thoughts. How these three different worlds of substance, language and possibility combined to coalesce into my “Discovery of Forever” I put down to the creative mysteries of the mind.

When I pressed that long curl of shaving into a singular, flat circular ring, the skin encircling each other over the top of the other to become a circle of about two inches diameter, I saw I couldn’t tell which end originally came from which end of the length of timber and as it was a complete circle, you could say there was no end … that is; no beginning and no end … just a continuity of circle without start or finish … a kind of eternal circle a; forever.

And I have noticed this quirk of religions that they embrace as a justification of Godly creation, a “Beginning” … which, proceeding along logical lines would determine that there then must be an implied ending … for nothing can begin except where there has been another ending … giving those who are inclined toward ecclesiastical belief a perimeter of understood boundary of territorial ownership … ”In the beginning to the day of judgement” … an allotted time and also a perceived length of time.

I let the shaving of wood fall while holding one end and it described a smooth, even helix as it hung down, two surfaces, outside and inside exactly the same, if I joined the top and bottom ends to their respective planes, one to the outside and the other to the inner, it would form a continuous repetitive track up and down the spiral … where the inside of the shaving goes on to become the new outside of the helix and so it continues on forever …

Now, given that we have these words; ‘eternal’ and ‘forever’ in the language that describe a perception of endlessness, and given that we, even those of ecclesiastical bent, accept the notion of “forever” and now when I look at that example of endless continuity in the joined shaving in front of me, I have to conclude, which you who read this must also conclude, that if there is no beginning and if there is such a thing as “forever”, then that “forever” has the capacity to reach back in time gone as much as it reaches forward in time yet to come … ergo, since like a circle where there is no beginning or ending, then the notion of forever is at any point of that circle … so one has to conclude that as much as our ancient ancestors looked to the future and fore-saw us in the here and now as a point toward forever, we can as easy look back toward those ancestors and say they are at a reverse point in the future ie; what we call “the past”, because there is no beginning nor end and forever is neither here nor there, neither out, in, up down inside out and all around … here, in this very spot, this workshop in the suburbs, here and now is forever!”

I have to confess to not knowing what to make of this dialogue of forever. The theories of helixes, circles with no beginnings nor endings is nothing novel and putting aside Jack’s theories on the Egyptian puzzles, I have to say that I had to wonder how or why a joiner would think of these things …

I could see the line of rational thought that old Jack’s premise ran along, but given his lack of qualifications in the realm of science, theology or physics, I would be inclined to dismiss his writings as the ravings of a mad-man … were it not for that niggling inquisitiveness … that curiosity for the strange and elusive that lures many including myself to ponder further on such theories … perhaps such are the temptations of pursuing raw knowledge in the privacy of one’s own thoughts.

Here was I, an educated man of medicine, now becoming interested in this strange treatise on a subject that I would have thought irrelevant but a few hours ago. And then what of old Jack Henke? What pulled him into this vortex of obscurity? The only thing I have concluded is that it must be a universal attraction of inquisitive intuition.

If we give it some thought, the inquiries of the world have brought us down three distinctive paths: Religion, Science and Tribal intuition. I abhor the first as a “Black art”, suitable only for the parking up of those basic human fears of superstition and death. Science is more reliable for the pursuit of solid knowledge, be it in the various fields; organic, mathematics or physics, but even there it has to obey and prove itself eventually with concrete resolution.

But tribal intuition … there is a fascination for the human intellect! And it is there that I would park old Jack’s ruminations … it is there that such imaginations appeal most to my relaxing hours … and I would wonder if such thoughts and revelations played more often that we like to accept in the conversations of our ancient forebears. Perhaps the notion of “forever” crossed the minds of those tribal groups as they made the regular rounds of their seasonal camps. The knowledge of having to regularly shift camp so as to renew and let regrow the worked-over site and hunting grounds would surely have become obvious and then habitual then become ritual as each season, each regular phase of moon and stars made their impression on the observant eyes and astute minds of those tribal elders, so that over many thousands of seasons, the regular pattern of activity that matched the geographical location of the camps brought the notion that here, in this repetitive movement and stillness, in the consumption and renewal of bush, berry and game was a hint of the notion of “forever” …

But yet, against the established orthodoxy of religion and science, tribal intuition doesn’t much get a consideration, yet I have concluded that with Jack’s personal discovery, he has hit upon a much larger piece of the jigsaw puzzle that humanity has been remiss in excluding from its complete knowledge … its wholeness; the intuitive understanding of our “tribal place” in the universe and how forever is not in the far future, but is here and now, a moment that comes and goes with each circumference of the circle of life.

For this understanding, I give thanks to old Jack Henke … tradesman joiner, the discoverer of forever.

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  1. Christopher J Ward

    Wow and thanks for posting. Truly a restorative account of a remarkable man. You were lucky to know him.

  2. wam

    Your imagination makes great reading,m Joseph, thanks forever.
    If you ever find a beginning will there be no forever????

  3. Joseph Carli

    Thanks, Christopher and wam….on the point of finding a beginnning, I have to plead that my job is to create mystery, not solve it!…or I’ll be “working myself out of a job”..
    “Imagination is what makes the mundane exciting, the ugly interesting and the lack of hope endurable…the rest I’ll leave to my sleeping hours..”……Oscar Wilde.

  4. Anne Byam

    Oh my goodness …. WHAT a read.. Wonderful Joseph, and thank you.

    Has got me thinking and wondering. hmmm !

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