Mortality

Skull facsimileWe humans have contemplated mortality for as long as we have been conscious – we’ve developed philosophy, and arguably, theology from it. So many do so much to avoid the inevitable, and yet it remains. We have people working right now to squeeze a little more life into our mortal coils. We live longer because of modern medicine, shoveling coal into the engine of society.

But… why? Are our lives so great that we simply have to continue on? How many more years of traffic, of software patches, of reveling in the idiocy of ‘leaders’… do we want more of that, not less? Do we want to work longer toward a retirement that society robs us of through the flawed ponzi scheme of economics that are based on the assumption that a larger population will produce more and thus be able to support a minority of aged people? There’s so much wrong with that assumption.

And yet, when in a hospital bed, being told by someone who casually hangs a stethoscope over their neck, that they will die… there is surprise. There is denial. There are questions of how long. There is almost no question of the quality of life except in movies and television shows. Those who believe in a deity will make urgent requests for more time, more medical bills, more of the same of  life that so few actually get to enjoy before. Those who do not believe may accept or not, they may fight or not, but typically they do not accept (denial), they do fight. Every breath is a battle.

Spoiler: We’re all going to die at some point. Every breath is a battle anyway; nothing has changed other than someone assigning a possible date that is closer than we might have expected. The world continues to spin.

Some of us fight for relevancy beyond our lifetimes – very few are actually remembered. Think of all those dressed so well after they died, over the ages. As of 2016, there were 100.8 billion dead humans. Our global population is roughly 7 billion at this time. How many are remembered? How many stand out? How many dead people can you think of right now? And how many of them will be remembered in a few hundred years?

But societies, cultures, civilizations – we remember those as we are taught, as was recorded by those who bothered. Even the dead ones. Especially the dead ones.

And underneath all of this, underneath all the things in ‘life’, there is this mortality that we deny through our actions, our words… and what we do not deny, we reinvent into another life, as if this one wasn’t quite enough. As if we have some higher purpose defined by people thousands of years ago scribbling into books.

And yet there are some, very few, that accept that they are already dead. Maybe they’re onto something. Maybe we already are, maybe we’re just echoes of society’s demands, the tools of our tools (Thoreau), going through the motions like Sisyphus, our blood turning the wheel of the great engine of society driving us… where?

Prediction.

Coyote Head NebulaEvery morning, waking, checking the sky for the weather even before the sun rises, every morning a little different – patterns emerge.

Weather forecasts are fairly useless so close to the coast, the fickle winds battling between a small landmass and a large.  Radar tells you what is, not what will be – it tells you things on a macro scale, it doesn’t tell you about what happens around you.

Wake up early enough, and on a morning where there will likely be no rain, you can see stars. On mornings where this is not true, they hide behind the Earth’s visual blanket of clouds, sometimes with the winds shifting them like living inkblots.

Prediction.  Deciding how to proceed. There is no question that one must proceed, as in life. There is no perfect set of circumstances, there are only circumstances you can proceed in – and the question is whether you wish to proceed or not; the answer is how you can make conditions something you can proceed in.

“Please take a seat”

She asks me to sit down. This is, of course, innocent and polite, but the system itself has done this to me one time too many. I was here for my contacts, I’d been through the testing, I’d been through two aftercare appointments, and every wait starts with, “Please have a seat in the waiting area.”

I’d been told on Monday that they would order the contacts, that they would be there on Thursday, and when I asked if they would call me I got an uncertain look about it which told me, “Maybe”, which tells me, “Probably not”, which I infer as “No”. While it’s nice to assume good, when it comes to systems of bureaucracy, unless you get a confident ‘Yes’, the answer should be taken as ‘no’.

I tell her, “No, I’ll stand right here. This should not take long; either you have them or you don’t and if you don’t, there’s no reason for me to linger.” She gives an awkward assent, scurrying to the back, this poor young girl used to the domestic herbivores who do as they are told when they are told because they are told.

I drift to the back, watching as people awkwardly come to the front desk looking around at the room full of employees, trying to decide how to politely get someone’s attention. One bearded fellow adjusts the stapler, ignoring the people at the desk. These are the same people who would call me twice when I had an appointment, to my annoyance, to make sure that I would be there – and here they were, unable to deal with the asynchronous.

As it happens, they didn’t have my contacts – it took 3 people to tell me that, a symptom of disconnected systems, of silos. The second one asks me to take a seat again, “No, I’m tired of sitting in here over the past few months.”

She tries a joke, “Well, we don’t have an option for people to lie down.”

She wriggles away under one of the looks I give people when they say something stupid and I don’t want to be a jerk. There was a time when I would just look down and shake my head, now I make eye contact and let my mask fall away. More than one person, even friends, have said that this is uncomfortable.

The third woman cuts in quickly, having dealt with me before.

“Did someone call you about them?”
“No; On Monday I was told they were ordered and would be here by Thursday. Today is Saturday.”
She properly apologizes, double checks. “I will personally call you when they come in.”

“Thank you.”

None of this required me to sit down. None of this required an elaborate process where I had to be handed off between people. And I’ve found, as much as I hate it, by unleashing myself just a little bit – just enough – they learn to adapt when they see me.

But the first pass is always so annoying.

Civilizations Fall

Old Stadium [Explored]Let’s take a moment and think about any civilization that fell – they all do at some point. If you’re living in the time when the civilization was great, you see things differently from that of the edge of the abyss.

We forget that civilizations don’t happen in one lifetime, but across many.

I’m sure that Roman children were told for generations how great Rome was. About the heroes that went before, about the honor of their armies, the wonders of their technologies, and how backward other places were. And these things were true when they happened, but they became less true as the civilization wandered it’s way to it’s demise. We can talk about the how, the why, the when (the where is obvious), but that’s not the point of this. There are plenty of people out there writing about that.

Think instead of being one of those Roman children, a plebian, growing up believing all of the great things that they were told about the Roman empire… towards the end of the period of that empire. Proud but not having contributed to something that they inherited – by design. Things start getting worse, so people get blamed – then entire peoples.

Imagine what they felt as they saw the truth break through the narrative that they had been sold, falling under it’s own weight because to forge an empire takes less strength and stamina than to maintain it. Imagine the denial of what was plain to see.

Now take a look around.

The Single Narrative.

Vipassana MeditationI was at a meeting, an informal year end meeting, and someone asked me how my Christmas was shaping up.

I responded, “Quiet.”

“How are you going to spend it?”

“Quietly. Maybe make a ham, a few friends might stop by.”

A woman interjects, “What about your wife, your children?”

“I don’t have those.”

“He’s a loner”, someone says quietly.

“That’s sad”, she continues, and I look at her – she immediately regrets saying it, I see, but I respond.

“Is it? I’ve not found a woman who I can stand, or who can stand me. There are women I like, who I have liked, but no one that I could stand or who could stand me. Yet there’s nothing wrong with me, I am whole, no parts are missing. And I am not sad, I am not lonely, and I’m not a victim of society’s narrative where people must get married, must have children…”

The table is silent, I realize I need to cut this short. Yet I see nods of quiet assent, even from a few married people at the table.

“Why lose serenity by chasing happiness?”

The Food Court.

The Mall Food CourtThey all walk past, in their own worlds. A smile here, a furrowed brow there. The expectations plane sometimes as they check their phones, the elders check watches. They are chasing things, people, spending their time in minutes and money. A caricature of social matrices made mundane by aggregation.

Christmas decorations are up – almost all but the nativity scenes actually have nothing to do with Christianity. These are traditions writ large on a canvas of culture with a caption, “spend”. Giving is good, so that stuff you spent your year collecting you can give us – and we’ll give you things, and you can give them to someone else. It’s the way of it, anyone who disagrees is labeled ‘Scrooge’ and mocked.

Malls used to be vibrant places in better times – now it’s more of a who’s who. The convenience of everything being in one place comes at the cost of the rent of the shops, passed down to customers who happily spend… when they have money. Times are different now, but it was around 2 p.m. on a Monday, and I had an eye appointment. So I can see all of this more clearly. As if I would want to see this all more clearly.

Christmas shopping has begun. I walked through the toy stores, considering my nephews.

The young women and men in the store immediately start asking me if I need help, as if I might teeter and fall around all their wonderment. Hardly. It’s the tired recipe of the better mouse trap – cars, action figures and dolls (and some in between), things that you can shoot at other people – legally. What a life skill to have, to fall back on in hard times. As a young man, as a boy, I was always interested in the things I could do things with – create my own world in my fashion, by block, by log, by metal contraption. I was lucky to understand that about myself at a young age. My nephews, I am not sure of. I think about it.

I get, of all things, a Subway sandwich. There is no good Italian sub in Trinidad and Tobago, not like in a good deli in Manhattan. Roast beef could have been interesting but they have no horseradish, and there’s no point to roast beef for me without horseradish.

I am disconnected. I know this, I knew this, I have known this for as long as I can remember. The days when it was uncomfortable are hard to remember now, but they were there – the discomfiture, the awkwardness, the silly attempts to pretend to fit in. To be ‘normal’. Normal disturbs me. It’s as unimaginative as water rolling downhill.

The mundane narrative is, strangely, not what people want – as can be seen by media consumption. And all it takes is a moment to do something, to think something, to observe something outside of the tunnel vision society creates.