Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's Always the End Of the World*

I keep track of asteroids. They’re interesting to me. When I look at the above image, there’s a little fear, a little thrill. My human solipsism is confounded by the idea of a universe without us. Walking across the Cincinnati suspension bridge the other day, I looked at our beautiful little city and found it unimaginable that it would one day be gone. All of the bridges down, all of the windows blown out. Ohio used to be underwater. A walk along the evolutionary stones at Sawyer Point illustrates that nicely.

So the next potential planet killer is a little asteroid named Apophsis. Apophis is the Greek name for the Egyptian god of destruction. Maybe the name is appropriate, but it’s a little melodramatic for my taste. I prefer Daisy.

Apophsis--sensationalism aside--is expected to be another in a long line of near misses. Only if it passes through what is called a ’gravitational keyhole’ as it zooms past us in 2026, could it cause a problem, creating a highly probable collision in the year 2036.

Why is all of this so appealing to me?

How can it not be? If you allow yourself to slip from the Summer Blockbuster angle, step past the survival fantasy, and override the slight tingling in your death instinct, there are good reasons to contemplate both your own, and the Earth’s, ultimate revelation. Such considerations aren’t--at least on my part--purely morbid, nor are they some kind of Hicksian yearning for Arizona Bay. While as humans we surely fall short, I don’t eagerly anticipate some kind of cosmic come-uppance.

Knowing that the story has an end, that our time is finite, and that indeed,we are lucky to be here at all, can only do us good. As Richard Dawkins opens his awesome book Unweaving the Rainbow :“The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains in Arabia.”

Out of all the variations, disasters, missteps, etcetera, that could've happened to us along the way to existence--navigating our way across a long, unbroken chain of evolutionary idiosyncracies--we are here. And we are alive, which is doubly lucky! The miracle in this scenario is our presence. We have already overcome the greatest hurdle we could ever face; all before we were even conscious of the concept of hurdles at all (and I was worried about getting into grad school)!

We are all grad students in the school of life.

So for creatures so random, so free to create our own meanings in this life, is it so bad to consider that someday we're going to check out?

It helps me. To know that I'll die--to know that you'll die too--takes a hesitation away from action. I am not here forever, and I can't be sure about anything that comes after this. I can't stow away my true intents and secret philosophies for vindication at a later date. I need to do it today. To know that I am finite and fallible (not necessarily operating on marching orders from some divine force), tells me to be open to others and to be kind. We are all in a similar situation here. And we're not guaranteed tomorrow.

Someone said all of this better than me:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.

who could argue with that?

There’s at least metaphoric rock at the end of both mine, and the Earth’s life. While it can be unsettling to consider, it helps keep me on point, and adds a poignancy to both the sound of my children's bare feet patting across the living room floor, and the sound of my now creaky knees as I stand up.

*This is a tweaked version of a post I wrote in August called 'Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do...

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