“There was once a tall, handsome and ethereal-looking young man who lived in Wonderland. He had luminous eyes and a wide, wide smile. All fell in love with him, because it never snowed in Wonderland.
But one day, The Queen Of Hearts tilted space and it started snowing. To everyone’s horror, the beautiful young man left such horrible footprints! For those footprints are the shape of his black and withered heart.”
In my book for the Young Adult reader, An Evening In Wonderland – A Brief Story of Maths, Physics & The Universe, I wrote:
Philosophers and scientists have long debated about the nature of space-time. Do they exist independently of the things and processes in them? Or is space-time’s existence totally dependent on these things and processes? Is space-time like a blank canvas onto which an artist paints her picture; does it exist whether or not the artist paints on it?
Nobody knows for sure.
But one thing we do know is that human beings are born with their respective world-lines unmarked just like blank canvasses. And as we go through life – interacting, growing and learning – others leave their footprints on that canvas of life, in the same way that we leave ours on others’ canvasses.
What sort of footprints do you leave?
In October 2015, I was already falling ill but fighting valiantly to keep things steady on the surface instead of falling apart. In the midst of that turmoil, I went to a book reading at The Southbank Centre in London. One of the speakers was a well-known theoretical physicist, and I thought how lovely he was to come down to this small public event to communicate his passion to us instead of isolating himself in the high tower of academia. Months later as I was struggling to write Wonderland, I dropped him a line and to my delight, he responded. He did not advise nor endorse, but just a few words of encouragement, but in doing so, he left an inspiring footprint in my book. And going ahead, whenever I think about that horrible time in my life, I will always remember this theoretical physicist’s light, which bears testament to the saying that there is a silver lining in every rain cloud.
And looking back on books and life, one of the most beautiful footprints were left in mine by someone called Antonio Castellano. A few weeks ago, as my plane flew across Italy, I traced its path in my heart – Milan, Rome, Sicily – with my mind’s eye seeing the beautiful train ride to Balzano and Verona, and walking in the snowfields on the Austrian border and finding a little chapel somewhere. I remember especially sitting in Milan one snowy winter and being read to by Antonio. He was reading his childhood friend Ambrogio’s unpublished manuscript to me, and I was moved by the poignancy of Ambrogio’s words. I got home and wrote Ten Most Beautiful Equations In The World for Antonio, and the next book I wrote, Barefoot In The City, was dedicated to Antonio in tribute to the lovely footprints he left in my life, which I will carry with me forever, in gratitude for all that he had been in my life. I would not have achieved some of the things I had, if it had not been for him.
The most significant footprints are of course my partner’s strong steady ones, notably in the times when there were only one set visible on the canvas of my life: those were moments in my life when I was too weak to walk and he carried me.
Can you imagine how beautiful the world would be if we walk with full awareness in (and perhaps more importantly, out of) the lives of those who allowed us to leave our footprints? Live consciously for a better world.