by Zinta Aistars
"The 400-year paradigm of modern civilization, as currently conceived, has reached the end of its line. Without a radical reorganization and rapid transformation of global practices, there is a high probability that the human species will soon crash and burn, as so many species have before us."
~ Daniel Pinchbeck from The Mystery of 2012
The Sunday morning is so bright with sun, the cool August air so sweet, the breeze so soft on my skin, the silence enveloping me so peaceful, that to consider THE END seems not only improbable, but nearly impossible.
And yet, not. When I page through the new catalog of book choices offered by my favorite online book club, my eye catches on the big bold teaser at the top of page 29: DO WE REALLY ONLY HAVE FOUR YEARS LEFT? The book advertised is called The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies and Possibilities, by Gregg Braden et al. The teaser continues, "The ancient Mayan calendar predicted that 2012 would be the end of the world. But what exactly does that mean? Will we go out with a bang or a whimper? Will we witness the apocalypse or the birth of a new age of enlightenment? Twenty-five experts on the 2012 debate present their answers …"
A light shiver goes through me. Four years. One moment I am tempted to order the book, curiosity tugging insistently at me. The next, all too quickly, I turn the page. I am uncomfortable. The thought of not only my life, but the lives of my children, my family and friends, of life as we know it, coming to an end in such a short time—four years!—is almost beyond bearable. Never mind the bleak days when this and that goes awry in my life that I toss out the careless comment, oh, I wish I could just die! When recently facing the scare of a possible diagnosis of cancer, I knew better. I do not want to die. And even less, I cannot, cannot bear the thought of my loved ones passing away. Even at the very threshold of such a thought, my mind clenches like a closed fist and turns away. NO.
It was only last week, however, that I sat with my aging parents, both in their 80s, at their kitchen table, the same one at which I'd sat as a child, that I heard my mother whisper her fears of impending death. Even while her physical self ages and withers, her spirit is still vibrant and young. Young and hungry for more living. My father still dreams of all the masterpieces he will paint. The future still holds promise for them. They have attended the funerals of countless friends. Dropping like flies, my mother says, shaking her head and breathing a long, heavy sigh. I'm not ready.
Are we ever? Perhaps some of us are. Those with clean consciences, who have righted wrongs, made amends, subsequently lived good and loving lives, and made peace with their God. Who knows what fears lurk in even a good man's heart? The unknown, after all, is unknowable. We have only our fears and our faith to face it.
I'm not sure my answer to my mother was of any comfort to her. But I told her that there was a part of me that envied her and my father. Their lives have been long and rich. Even the experience of being refugees in the brutalities of war, when the Soviet army invaded their homeland, Latvia, and drove them forever away from the place where they had their deepest roots, and do still. They have managed to live good lives, nonetheless, with two daughters nearby, a wide circle of grandchildren, and a tightly knit social circle of their Latvian friends. They have had each other, for better or for worse, near 60 years as companions. Every night, they fall asleep spooning for warmth.
Come what may, I think, they have had a good share of the best life has to offer. My own? My heart has been broken more than it's been mended. In spite of various pretend lovers since, it has been over a decade since I have made love. I once had one of those pretend lovers say to me, at least you have known love. Indeed, I have. Although the saying, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, never fails to make me cringe. There is no settling for anything less once one has known true lovemaking. It is the sacred. All else will forever pale in comparison, leave the heart aching in memory. The casual embrace, the unions of the many lonely, the poor, crippled cousin of true intimacy—mind, spirit, body simultaneously entwined—whimpers and slinks away, back into the dark, seedy shadows from whence it came.
I think of my own children—the generation to come. Their children, as yet unconceived. While at times I have longed to see their future faces, there are increasingly more times that I fear for their futures. I consider the generations behind me, lying down with peace on their death beds, knowing their seed will thrive in the years ahead, know lives better than their own. Can we still hold such an expectation?
Four more years.
How might we change our lives now if we knew this to be true? Oh, the apologies made, the avalanche of apologies, this time, finally, sincere. I imagine those who would finally reunite and those who would finally separate to pursue a truer intimacy. I imagine the stacks of resignations at work places. I imagine the homes abandoned and the homes finally found. I imagine the weapons of war laid down while others would be taken up, if only in denial and fear.
Yes, I can imagine the fear. The air would reek of it. The churches and mosques and meditation chapels and synagogues would fill to brimming, the whispers and chants and murmurings of desperate or resolved prayer vibrating the air like a tangible frequency of electricity.
I can imagine the joy. In those who have suffered in silent martyrdom for too long, the hope of a finality the best news they could hear.
I imagine prisons falling open like cracked eggshells. The stampedes. Fists raised to the air, bellowing lungs of freedom cries, so quickly followed by wails of impending doom.
Four more years.
I imagine artists, myself among them, contemplating the tools of their art. Paper and pencil, the keyboard and blank pages. What still needs to be said? What does one write when the moment stands solitary and without another to follow it?
The artist contemplates his paintbrush. How many years did Michelangelo need to paint the heavens, the mere hand of God? Far more than four.
Perhaps only the musician will play, fingering the weeping strings of his guitar, yet once more dancing over the keys of his piano, because music is the straightest line to the heart. I imagine the sorrowful violin as the Titanic sunk into dark and chilly depths. Music will be the final art, singing us in our passage into the unknown.
Four more years. For those of conviction and faith, it would be the time to prepare for a wonderful and final journey. The heart would tremble with ecstasy.
But tomorrow is Monday, and it is still only the summer of 2008, and so we will clamp down the alarm with a groan when it sounds in the morning and rise from our varied beds, worldwide. Some of us will immerse ourselves in work of meaning; others will complain the entire day of their meaningless and unappreciated labor, and change nothing. Humanity will know the full spectrum of emotion and experience in one day, and the days to follow. Life and death and all that comes between. As always.
The possibility of THE END is undeniable. We cannot know. Even those of us with a deep faith cannot know. We can only wait and wonder. We can only hope to do what is right in this next moment, and the moment that follows, and so be ready for whatever comes. Countless more centuries of a better life … or an end to the agony. A new age of enlightenment … or simply the closing of a door. The last door. With no more doors behind it.
It is wise to be ready for either. 2012 may be no more spectacular than 2000, when many feared the changing of the zeroed century. Yet there is wisdom in living our lives, always, under any condition, as if there are only four more left. If nothing else, it sharpens the mind. It alerts the sleeping heart. It corrects the list of priorities. It teaches us to create a blessing in this moment, now, rather than to forever be anticipating that which may or may never come.