Have you ever had one of those situations when suddenly you hear nothing but a name or references to one, where you were previously unaware of who they are? It’s like having a temporary unofficial stalker. I had this had happen to me last week, with the late Simone Weil.
My first encounter with seeing her name is that most days going about my business I have to travel along Simone Weil Avenue. I was unaware of the name of this road having only lived here a short while and my powers of observation aren’t always switched on. Turning into the road, by the corner of a busy junction there is a plaque dedicated to her memory. I had noticed the plaque before but could not see who it was honouring. I have promised myself many times I would stop one day and take the time to read it. I still haven’t but was reminded again of my promise last Tuesday, waiting at the traffic lights sitting directly opposite the plaque. It was too far away for me to read but could just make out the name ‘Simone Weil’ it was then I noticed the name of the road itself, Simone Weil Avenue.
The second time I saw her name last week was when a friend recommended me a book. Unsure if i wanted to buy it from itunes I selected the sample and read the few pages that are offered. With the first page being the preface and a reference to none other than Simone Weil. How extraordinary I thought. Seeing her name twice in two days.
Then for a third time that week her name came up when my Father asked to use my iPad, wanting to use the search oracle that is Google. He saw my last search listed in the history being ‘Simone Weil’. He told me that only the day before he had heard a Radio programme that spoke of her in-depth mentioning her being buried here in Kent, not far from the road i mentioned above as it turns out.
How truly bizarre to go from not knowing a name to hearing nothing but, all in the space of a week.
I felt compelled to read & learn more about this revered French philosopher, political activist & Christian mystic (Wikipedia’s words not mine), desperately trying to prove my long-held theory that there is significance even in chance, I read her biography from a number of sources online. She had a busy life, full of accomplishment and the championing of the working class. Born in Paris in 1909 to an Alsatian Jewish family she became a Professor and studied for much of her life, impressively becoming proficient in Ancient Greek by the age of 12, she even went on to learn Sanskrit amongst other things. Her brother was the renowned mathematician Andre Weil and through him she became involved in mathematics becoming the only female member of the Bourbaki Group, whose findings led to the discovery of many concepts & terminologies that are still used today.
I also found source after source of quotes that were attributed to this remarkable woman, the one that resonated with me most being ‘If we go down into ourselves, we find exactly what it is we desire’. What a gratifying and succinct thing to say.
As I read more and more of her achievements I came to the conclusion that there was nothing that would link her to I. That was until I read that she died aged 34 after being confined to a sanitorium in Ashford, Kent. The exact age I am now weirdly.
When I compare her profound achievements and bold confidence in her own beliefs with that of mine I feel hugely inferior. Somewhat of a massive under achiever by comparison. Maybe discovering who and what Simone Weil had done in her short life is to serve as a reminder that if we dedicate and apply ourselves we can achieve great things, on any scale, even in the mundane day-to-day. Either way now knowing who Simone Weil actually was I’ve been left inspired to read some of her works starting with her most famous posthumous work ‘The Need for Roots’. According to the reviews this book deals with her reflections on the religious and political social structures on the individual. Apparently she protests that the basic human obligation is to not let another suffer through hunger but more importantly our duty to others & our community. Our human rights are being put before our obligations and this has left us self-righteous and rootless.
I cant help but think her work is now as significant as ever with the world that we live in, particularly on a day like today when I woke to the horrific news of the Boston Marathon Bombing. How can people harbour so much hatred they intend to cause so much suffering.
Maybe this is the link that I were looking for, discovering her life’s work and taking inspiration from that.