So I guess the Maya were wrong. My floor did not collapse into a boiling pit of lava this morning. Equally disappointing, those hellacious world-ending fireballs raining from the sky turned out to be, upon closer inspection, nothing more than innocent snowflakes. Even though the Mayans’ doomsday prophecy has proven just as absurd as all the others, I think it serves a purpose. When was the last time you thoughtfully spoke with another about death? Since we were all supposed to become heaps of ash today, what substantive steps did you take to mend broken relationships or at least internally prepare for what could be your mind’s last cognition? Nothing? Yeah, me neither. In our society it is much more acceptable to talk about the end of a TV program than the end of a life. Grief is privatized, compartmentalized, and Hallmarkized. Compare our treatment of death with the conspicuous funeral pyres and public grief rituals of many civilizations, ancient and modern. Silence can make a hard thing even harder. Even our temporary survival does not erase the fact that…
I am going to die. So are you. As are my dog, the bamboo plant sitting on my desk, the spider spinning a web in the corner of my closet, the lowly paramecium gliding across the food stain on my kitchen countertop, and the majestic oak I can just barely see outside my window, its snow-dusted branches stretching impossibly high towards the heavens and – dare it – towards immortality. Beauty and size and complexity serve only as yellow lights and speed bumps on the street towards a single destination, where U-turns are illegal. The song stops playing, the music fading or ceasing instantly to ungoverned silence, shoulders sagging, and all other metaphors I can think of become irrelevant or all too relevant – all this true no matter what show continues.
When faced with the senseless reality, how to pull yourself from the reverie that impends at the corner of your eye? As if he has already whisked you away to his castle under the hill – all sterility and necessity and empty of surprise. If going beyond the veil is natural and peaceful, why does it rustle so loudly? I don’t know, and neither does he.
And yet – the only thing as certain as death is life. It fills in the gap that allows us to examine why and how it could ever end in the first place. And the last place. Again, Isaiah is wrong – life is naught without death and death naught without life. There can be no dent without an object to be dented. Fleeting and fleeing, like a gossamer of silk dancing a capricious ballet upon the nearest stage of wind, it holds us in wonder for its beauty and – crucially – its transience. Precious for its rarity, its temperance the enemy.
Grounded herein, real work may begin.
So as we laugh at the Mayan calendar (or our interpretation of it), we should take notice. Their gifts to modernity are perhaps more complex than imposing pyramids and maize. Don’t be afraid to contemplate the end a little bit, for it is the only way to construct a rewarding path to get there. Extend your hand and bend your ear. Heighten each moment. You just might find, as I have, all the more reason to celebrate — that when our summons comes we will have made more merit than malice.