They were lovers till the end, his Ouma and his Oupa. PW thought of Ouma with her papery-thin skin, her rivers of prominent green veins and her sparse white hair, the remnants of a once-great beauty, and of Oupa’s daily happiness for the simple privilege of waking up with her and waiting for her rheumy blue eyes to open.

For Oupa, she will always be Rose Koetze, the young widow who ran Die Uitkyk with an iron hand after her husband died, who gave him a job and a new life. To him, she was always the great Voortrekker beauty with a fierce spirit but who came to him soft and yielding in the night. We never see things and people as they really are; rather, we see them as we ourselves are.

Today, she was sitting on the wooden rocking chair on the stoep when PW arrived. PW ran up the steps and kissed his grandmother’s hand reverently. In her persence, he always felt like a boy once again, in his short trousers and wearing oversized tackies, feeling awe-inspired and nervous-excited about the day ahead. Everyday was still a great adventure then.

“Ouma,” he said.

Ag, PW,”  she patted his face fondly.  Her favourite grandchild. “Have you come to tell me about the blerrie English girl?”

Invisible Music

He listened more, pressing his ear against the cold stone of the square tower of Magdalen College. More music came to him, disembodied, but real nonetheless. Like fire, music is critical to our survival. It predates language and is more than a just frivolity that we often carelessly assign it to. Early Paleolithic humans invested a lot of effort into making music, probably because music touches us all at a very deep level. There is a possibility that music predates bipedal walking, and why not? To communicate, like to procreate, is a fundamental driver of life.

But what is music?

It is a vibration of molecules following a certain, beautiful, established pattern and this sequence of energised molecules works with neurotransmitters, opening up cortical circuitry in the brain, opening up our minds like a chemical flower blooming in its osteoblast cage.

From its source, music travels out spherically, directionless, losing energy along the way. Thus, music gets fainter the further away it gets from its source, until the energy dissipates to the extent that the molecules no longer hum to the beat. But in Alice’s world, these molecules reach him with their message across space and time, and the message that it carried was the beauty of the Magdalen College Choir singing Mount Up, My Soul. Mount Up, My Soul was a little known song, written by Joseph Straphan in 1834 that PW used to play on the piano in the veld to the tempo of crickets singing. How did she know?

“I loved you since forever, PW.”

Absolute Zero

In our Universe, motion and energy intimately interplay with each other, resulting in life and reality. At the place where Absolute Zero temperature prevails, this vibrancy is replaced by total stillness. All stands still. Time stops moving, and when Time equates to zero, all mathematical equations fall apart. Our reality falls apart when it tries to multiply and divide anything by zero.

“Yes, I want to build an accelerator so huge that it can be seen from the skies,” PW said. “It has always been my childhood ambition. Because at the extremes is where interesting things happen. Because each trip to the edge teaches us new things and opens our eyes to new dimensions.”

“Have you ever thought, my dearest Professor, that all is to be known is right here?” She leaned forward and lightly touched a space just above his heart. “Absolute Zero is here. In there somewhere there is zero dimensional space, the Singularity so beloved of you physicists, it is right here.”

An invisible orchestra

All entities vibrate, spin, move and hum their most fundamental level. This is the vibrancy of life. The space that you perceive as empty is actually a force field, a very busy zoo indeed, of particles coming in and out of existence and strings vibrating to some unseen conductor’s wand. Even seemingly inanimate objects – like the table, plastic cups, moon rocks, thoughts – possess this vibrancy, because all that we see in our material world is made of immaterial things once we move deeper into the realms of atoms and subatomic particles. At its most fundamental level, the Universe and all that we experience in it, is just a symphony of vibrating strings, creating a coherent music that becomes our reality.