No Final Reunion, Reconciliation or Justice
“Meanwhile the twilight is glooming upward out of the corners of the room. The shadows of the tall furniture grow deeper, and at first become more definite; then, spreading wider, they lose their distinctness of outline in the dark gray tide of oblivion, as it were, that creeps slowly over the various objects, and the one human figure sitting in the midst of them. The gloom has not entered from without; it has brooded here all day, and now, taking its own inevitable time, will possess itself of everything. The Judge's face, indeed, rigid and singularly white, refuses to melt into this universal solvent. Fainter and fainter grows the light. It is as if another double-handful of darkness had been scattered through the air. Now it is no longer gray, but sable. There is still a faint appearance at the window; neither a glow, nor a gleam, nor a glimmer, — any phrase of light would express something far brighter than this doubtful perception, or sense, rather, that there is a window there. Has it yet vanished? No! — yes! — not quite! And there is still the swarthy whiteness, — we shall venture to marry these ill-agreeing words, — the swarthy whiteness of Judge Pyncheon's face. The features are all gone: there is only the paleness of them left. And how looks it now? There is no window! There is no face! An infinite, inscrutable blackness has annihilated sight! Where is our universe? All crumbled away from us; and we, adrift in chaos, may hearken to the gusts of homeless wind, that go sighing and murmuring about in quest of what was once a world!”
Coming in from the cold
I think I know why people do not want to die. It is because they know there is nothing for us after life is done. And nobody likes this idea much. So, many of us tell ourselves otherwise. And we convince - or let other convince us - that there is something to follow. We build connections with people who share our belief, and then communities, and societies and cultures. Time cements such stories with the firm substance of precedent, and we are comforted with the satisfaction of accepting what others have always thought and believed. And then we just accept...and rarely give our stories a second thought. But still, we are afraid to die...even if we think we are going to paradise...we are still afraid to die. And others are afraid for us...even if they think we are going to paradise....they are afraid for us to die. There is the sadness of loss in their tears, but they are also afraid to die.
Why our love
Of this place and circumstance?
Our desire to remain,
And to be remembered,
to not forget
We are afraid of death because we enjoy being alive...mostly. Sure, it is hard sometimes, sometimes a lot. But overall, it beats the alternative which we seemingly know is true: that death is an utter end and cessation, not only of living but of all being; an utter and absolute end - with no final chance of reunion, reconciliation or justice. We all "remember" the nothing we weren't before we were born. That is a strange combination of words...though these words do capture the sense of what I mean.
What "we weren't"
As though an utter absence of anything could somehow be something. That this sounds strange is just a failing of my vocabulary to capture a sense of the deepest absence of anything. But we were indeed once nothing. And then we became something. And now we'll be something for a little while yet. And just when things start to get fun and interesting (life seems always on this verge) we'll wink out and "become" nothing again. Nuts...
But this news is not so bad if we've our community of friends and family who share our contrived stories of forever. We will go on telling one another of a joyful, eternal reunion, of a better place where those who went before now reside, and where our good living may certainly earn us passage. And maybe even of a worse place where we and others might wind up if we are not good or fail to toe the party line. So, we toe, and we come together, and we sing, and we weep, and we believe. All the while we fear. All the while we remain afraid or at least hesitant of death. For we wish to remain here. We would rather stay somewhere certain. Despite the suggested wonders of there–that someplace of possible make-believe. We would rather stay here. For fear there may be no there.
Some part of us refuses always to accept the doubted certainty over the unwanted reality.
Life in the open
What price fearful security?
What does it really cost...
To hide under the blankets?
It costs nothing really to hide... Nothing at all. Not in any absolute sense at least. So, go on...bury yourself under the sheets...wait out this terrible thing of life in a dark and seemingly secure huddle. Maybe you will find some companions in there? Some others with whom to share the stale air and quite small horizon. Maybe someone among you—perhaps someone in the past—will have made up and shared a story of origins beneath the sheets; a tale of how this all got started, and why it's good to bury deep and forget what we first spied out there in the open. And then we will truly find comfort...we will surely know peace...and maybe live forever - at least that is what we keep telling ourselves. We will live forever, together, forever, and always; but just us, just those who we know found their way under the sheets with us and who know the sacred ritual of understanding and acceptance. Those others...well, they are not worthy, and they will pay for their sins. They will pay forever, somewhere else, just like now, somewhere else, they will pay for their dear sins. How dare they not join us beneath the sheets.
But beyond the sheets there's starlight bright, and nights cold, and wind that comes from somewhere in mystery and blows to another mystery. The wind—that desert wind—they say always blows somewhere deep, into some part of the desert where we could never go; being too far and too cold at night or too hot during day, but always too far, further than we could survive if we tried—but maybe someday...maybe one day one of us will try?
The life of starlight and wind.
The tribe beyond the sheets shiver in the cold. They prefer the cold. They would rather be here where there is so much indistinct and uncertain, and so few around who pretend to know, though there are some here with us—less companions than fellow travelers—comparing notes and tales and scars. These people do not often embellish what they say with fanciful dreams or vision or concocted myth lending unwarranted certitude or any sense of final answer. They just share the facts mostly, perhaps with a sometimes flourish of emotion as memory recalls the delicious fear or thrill of the unknown which they had met alone in the wastes. And then these travelers part ways in the desert and go to their own horizon; maybe to meet again someday or may never to see anyone else ever, perhaps going to their doom today—a welcome end—accepted and warranted not of resignation, but instead of the satisfaction of a day and life very well spent. A life ending in oblivion. With no hope of final reunion, reconciliation, or justice. A life without even a backwards glance at what was, or a wistful longing for what might be. A balanced acceptance only of whatever their life, in fact, was, is and seemingly will never be.
I enjoyed an interesting talk with a friend today where we touched briefly on the differing ways in which people pace the moments of their days and the days of their lives. Of course, there are many factors at play in how we live, though I mentioned to my friend that one of the things that makes me rise early, work and play hard, and then go to sleep early and deeply is the sense that my moments are passing and there will be no more moments to follow. I get twenty-four hours today (if I am lucky) which are deducted permanently from whatever balance sheet provides accounting for my life. There is no time to spare. Not a moment to waste. Even if I will not ever know when my time is at last up and I am done. I wonder if this sense would be different if I thought there was something more?
"Wherefore the spirit has both
a birthday and a funeral."
I drove past an estate sale today. The very concept brought me back to Japan, and the life I had formerly lived selling whatever goods remained after old people died. I was an "antique" dealer then. In fact, I was a scavenger. I was a grabber and purveyor of the leftovers of old people's lives. I made my living offering for resale, the nonsense filler and fluff of lives glossed over with the veneer of make-believe meaning and significance of things. I was a middle-man of materials making their transit from the dead to the soon-to-be-dead. I was a mortician of things. And in this regard, I saw so clearly how corpse-like our goods are after their owners are gone. When there is no one left to remember why these things were ever important. How vacant of meaning and sentiment our possessions become when the sentiment holder is no more. I did my best then to do a good job, to find new homes for these hollow objects of past regard, to find new owners who might, in their turn, attempt to fill these material vessels with some contrived sentiment and meaning. I saw then–though I did not recognize it at the time–The Great Indifference peeking through the seams of our dearest possessions. That experience ruined me of possessions. And I have gladly never recovered.
I would now rather acquire good moments than good bargains. I know this is a rather cliché sentiment. But I have found it to be true–just like some many other cliché sentiments. That is probably the reason they are cliché, because the truth of their meaning keeps coming back to us with every age and generation. I wonder if we will ever learn at last...
I hope there is no need of an estate sale when I pass. And I hope my heirs know better that to ask, when I am dead, "where's all his stuff?"
When our finding days are done
Before I was alive I'm pretty sure I simply did not exist. Oh sure, the stuff of which I am made was around, and the energy which courses through me was somewhere here—but, I wasn't. The thing which is me did not exist. The composite collection of atoms and energy which thus assembled and was given my name was never anywhere together before my conception and what was the start of a long chain of chemical reactions leading to now; a series of cellular additions—the lives and deaths of countless unicellular me—cascading through five and a half decades of life; astonishingly complex in organization, with a simple mandate to carry on long enough to continue copying myself, beyond myself, before dying and getting once more out of the way. No other purpose apparent. No better objective reason to be. I just am. Finding myself suddenly one day here and alive—from nothing which was me before. And I will live until that which I am winds down again—to a nothing which will never be me again.
We each cannot remember
What we were not before we were
Which is likely what we will not be again
When we are done being what we are now
I can alllllmost remember the nothing... It is like a void of sorts in the line of time before I was born, or conceived. But even this nothing is contrived, like time in a story of fiction; something clearly made up which we willingly fool ourselves is real—for though the time before I was alive was seemingly real indeed, it is simply a believed fiction to me who was never there, and who does accept the story based on the persuasion of parents and teachers, as well as the evidence of society, libraries, museums and the cherished heirlooms of consensus that what is went on before I was ever here. I do not mean to suggest the past was never real—only that it was never real to me who was never there; like the future beyond my own death, which is another place and time I can never know, though I can believe it will be true. So, the nothing which I was and the nothing which I will again become—strange idea that..."becoming nothing"—exist in a past and a future which I can never know, which is a fiction of sorts to me at least. And it is into this fiction where some of us smuggle forever.
Forever rescues us from oblivion—but only in the future, as the past denies us forever like a closed and sealed door. Yet the future welcomes any tale we wish to believe. And so we tell ourselves stories: of providence, of love, of salvation, of forever, of reunion, and of peace. And every story we say fits perfectly into an open hole which is open because it is not real. It's a perfect fit! Our contrived salvation and immortality sit just so within the emptiness of the time beyond our death. How grand it will be! And how fortunate we are! To be ones who know of the truth, and can pass this bastard thing of our life like a hard day with a head cold, knowing relief from suffering is at hand just as soon as the sun goes down, and we go to sleep, and then awaken to the sunrise of a new day. How desperate we become to sleep the night away.
Those are nice stories to be sure. And a good balm and relief from the anxiety of the unknown. But stories they are. Like the words children tell themselves alone and in bed in the night, with the covers drawn over their heads, imagining somewhere and sometime beyond darkness and the strange sounds elsewhere in the room. And so, the night may pass thus tucked in against the dark, mumbling convincing prayers and "hallelujah, We Shall rise"—passing minutes and hours of restless sleep and awake, 'till the night is done and we move on into the unknown which we call our known.
Or we might just say "I don't know" and "it seems like nothing awaits to me" and then get on with this one life we seem to have to enjoy, and to suffer, and to build upon, and to fail within, and to know others, and to be rejected, and to find peace, and to suffer, and to live.
Pull now the covers from our face. Look square into the growling dark. Get out of bed into the cold night. Walk, stumble, become lost and find until our finding days are done.
Notes from my muse
The countdown begins again for departure to the wild. It's always so easy one week out, easier still just five days 'till, a little harder the day after tomorrow, and then tomorrow...I'd rather not think about it. The day of is all apprehension, mixed with the eager want of getting started. Once underway there's no room for doubt, though facts may float up to pester maturity with reality. Such a nuisance this mortal concern. How much easier should we really believe there were anything more.
Desert landscapes appear far more alien when viewed from Earth than the cold indifferent altitudes of outer space. The fact that life holds on here with a more tenuous grip than elsewhere on our planet suggests the universe's apparent imbalance of organic and inorganic substance. From space, all the surface of our world appears alive and vital. Only in deserts, and perhaps far out upon the face of the sea, or maybe at the end of life, and then only up close, and when we're alone, can the truer landscape be more clearly seen.
Satellite imagery is a useful, if imperfect, tool of wilderness reconnaissance. Features of the landscape which appear strange and unusual from cameras orbiting 30 miles above the Earth, often turn out to be mundane and average when closely inspected on foot. This video documents my effort to locate strange marks on the ground I'd seen from space, which turned out to be natural enough features after all. However, the desert nevertheless had a surprise for me in this place, and a reward for following a trail which began where the stars twinkle, and led to a place as vacuous of meaning as the cold void of heaven.
I’ve arranged a phone call tomorrow with the 82-year old man who contacted me about his youthful experiences alone in the wild. He made a special point to inform me of his disbelief in God, and I’ll be interested to hear his thoughts about his long life, as well as the death he told me is fast approaching (he jokingly suggested I’d better call him tomorrow if we’re going to talk at all). I wonder where this even temper comes from in the face of a perception of life’s end with no promise of tomorrow? I plan to ask him this question if I sense he’s prepared to talk.
Come alone to a desert ghost town to discover there are no ghosts. Just snakes, and spiders, and scorpions in your shoe. Sure, the wind howls like the moaning dead, and the solitude begs questions of forever. But when the people are gone they’re gone. The memories you may sense are your own. What lingers is only in your mind. There are no ghost here. The town is truly dead.
There’s no moon and the desert is DARK. I went for a walk to locate the Siberia stone path. It’s interesting to imagine the motive of the long-dead person who once carefully placed these stones to form a path from nowhere to nowhere else. Nobody will ever know.
The writing bridge above Route 66. Nothing down there...
I really hope that my leaving a chair at Siberia won’t civilize the place. I’d hate to spoil the ruin.
Sunset on Siberia ghost town. The wind has stopped. Now the ghosts that never were can return...
It’s almost noon and time to leave Siberia for my real home with my family. With a little luck I’ll cross the 205 miles in time for dinner. It’s good to have a place to go which leaves us with less and less with every visit - allowing us to focus on the really important stuff that’s left behind...
Stopping for lunch at the edge of the high desert. It’s cold out here. That’s good, as it means the summer Desert Killer is now gone. It’s too soon for the winter killer to arrive, though I shutter a bit at simply the thought. I’m so much more scared of the desert during the winter than the summer; as there’s no escape. There’s no hiding beneath the bridge. No amount of clothing will do. Especially in the wind, which moves over my two-hundred square miles of empty like a smothering blanket of cold, with a deep indifferent embrace. At least the heat warms the mind, imparting some comforting suggestion of more when life in done. Not the cold. There’s no immortality there.
I just met two soulless beasts now in the dark. I must be nearing the Edge of Deep Water. What’s a soulless beast? Please consult the chapter titled The Cast within my book Going Alone.
During work today my student drove me past an estate sale. The sign on the street brought me back to Japan...and the life I once lived disposing of the forgotten lives of those who were no more. I spent five years as a member of a clean-up crew, part of a ragtag group of social outcasts who came into the homes of the dead to collect what material possessions remained and then try to pawn them off on the living for a small gain in profit. The experience was shocking to me. To see how quickly and completely the life and even the memory of everything material that had once mattered to people became grist and fodder for others with no idea who the original owners were; to then pass, in turn, and in their time, to have their "treasures" recycled for a new generation. I witnessed and participated in this process so many times that I became essentially indifferent to things. Now, I'd rather my estate reside with the moments and memories of my art and my family. And I truly hope there's nothing left of me when I'm gone for anyone to dust off and put back on the shelf with a price tag.
En-route to the pool this morning I met a neighbor who I hadn't seen in a while. As we walked towards one another I noticed he'd lost one of his slippers a little way back on the path. Our conversation unfolded as follows:
Me: Good morning, James! Merry Christmas!
James: Merry Christmas!
Me: I haven't seen you in a while.
James: I had a stroke, three weeks back. I just got out of the hospital. I can't feel anything on the right side of my body [which explains his bare right foot and the slipper lost back on the path].
Me: My gosh! I'm so sorry to hear that!
James: It's alright. I knew it was coming someday. High blood pressure, you know.
We chatted for a bit longer before James' wife came out to join him on his walk [retrieving the lost slipper as she joined us]. James asked me if the water in the pool was cold, and told me he'd be joining me soon on my daily swims to try and get himself back in shape and be with us a little longer. His wife frowned a bit at this idea as she clasped his arm to her body.
I suspect James and his wife are celebrating a very special Christmas today. They've much to be thankful - and thoughtful - for.