28 May 2010

Articles of Faith: Parameters of the Last Ark — Pt. 3

(cont'd from previous posts)

Imagine this: You are a youngish person in, say, the prime of your life. Your doctor informs you that, through some mysterious, though infallible process he has determined that you have exactly two years to live—no more, no less. This is your certain destiny. There is no escaping this fate. What do you do?

End of life counselors might tell you: (1) to put your affairs in order; (2) to go to your loved ones and ask their forgiveness for whatever indiscretions you might have committed; (3) then to so forgive them; (4) to tell them you love them: (5) to thank them; and (6) to say 'good-bye'. Something like that. All well and good.

Your friends might tell you to come up with some sort of 'bucket list' of things you want to do before you die. Your own personal bucket list might include things like parachuting or climbing Mt. Everest or bedding a supermodel or tracking down and killing bin Laden or reading Proust or making sure your progeny are in good hands.

But beyond that, wouldn't you want to use the time you had left to come up with some sort of project? Something concrete to accomplish before the end arrives?

For example, you might pour your remaining time into finding a remedy for whatever it is that is going to kill you so that others might not suffer the same fate—on the off chance that you might, if successful, find some way of escaping your fate and possibly even save yourself.

It needn't be a positive project either. You might also opt to destroy all your belongings or go on a crime spree or seek revenge against people who've slighted you or create problems that make the lives of your loved ones worse or even devise some fiendish way to destroy your own life sooner.

It depends on who you are.

These are all 'projects', things you might want to do before you croak, but by no means an exhaustive list. Of course, you wouldn't necessarily have to have some sort of 'to do' list. You could just sit around and weep and moan about how unfortunate you are or turn inward and attempt to contemplate the meaning(-lessness) of it all. You could even pretend that you didn't have such a death sentence hanging over your head and just go on living your life the way you always have—purposeless and desperate, as if you're going to live forever. In denial. That wouldn't forestall things—and at some deep level you would know that.

Understanding that this is everyone's predicament, at some level, is what it means to be human. At some level we all know this; we all realize we are each of us mortal and, presumably, our animal friends do not. The attempt to deal with this realization and its accompanying sense of loss—the profound, existential sadness that comes with this blunt realization—was, if you'll recall, the theme I emphasized in my series of literary readings: Ur-story. In fact, it gave us a workable definition for getting at the essence of the works we were examining.

But more than that—more, that is, than the fate of each of us as individuals—this is the predicament of humanity and of life on Earth as we know it. (This was the notion I explored in the earlier posts in this series.)

That leaves us with the question: Do the same rules apply? How do we, as a species, cope with having to say goodbye to life and all that? Is there a 'bucket list' for us as a species? For life itself, for that matter? Something we need to accomplish? Something we were meant to accomplish? Something we want to leave as a legacy? A mark we can make in the vastness of the universe?

Shouldn't there be?

(to be continued)

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