Chicken Little’s famous lamentation has surfaced again in the form of the Mayan apocalypse scheduled for today. And this lunacy has been going on for thousands of years. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/owen-egerton/11-other-times-the-world-_b_2332564.html)
Well, sooner or later, one of these ne’er-do’wells is going to be right as, according to physicists, the world is going to end at some point. And, there are certainly lunatics around today who could cause this to happen more immediately, given their crazed belief in Ultimate Truth, and a willingness to destroy the world to bring this Truth about…or at least wreak havoc on those of us who do not believe as they do.
Ultimately, we are all fearful of death and that is what this hysteria is about. We are going to die and it is a scary proposition that our ego cannot brook. We cannot accept our simple mortality and thus invent crazy belief systems to cling to so that this fear can be assuaged. And even tenable belief systems are often interpreted in such a way that they too are merely an escape from reality. And then we have these crazy episodic notions of how this end will come about so abruptly.
I like the approach that Jesus offered to the subject of mortality. To paraphrase, he said, “Yes, you are going to die. So, go ahead and die so that you can live.” And he did not attempt to camouflage our mortality but emphasized the presence of an Ultimate Reality that is always with us and to which we will return upon our death. And his teachings…and the teachings of the Christian tradition…contend that this Ultimate Reality can find expression in our contemporary mortal life if we are willing to undergo death now in a spiritual sense.
T.S. Eliot in his brilliant Four Quartets noted the importance of this symbolic death in our life and added, “And the time of death is every moment.” Or, to put in in Pauline terms, “I die daily.” Each day of our life there are little moments to die in the sense of humbling ourselves, accepting the limitations of reality and our limited grasp on reality, and making room for others and for the world at large. And, yes there are heroic individuals who often face death in a more literal sense. And at some point we will all face death in a literal sense and our ability to accept it at that moment will not be unrelated to how we have accepted the process of death in our day to day life, how we have accepted the bruises that our ego has been subjected to by “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet)
(A FACETIOUS CONCLUSION—It is tempting to start to daily proclaim myself that “the end is nigh, the end is nigh” as I just might be right at some point! Then wouldn’t that be so gratifying? Everyone would stand back in awe, saying, “Hey, Literary Lew got it right.”)