As you may have noticed, one consequence of being born is that you eventually must die.
And although that may seem unfair, that’s just the way it is.
I dreamt last night that I was on one of those long, awkwardly comforting movable walkways that you find in large airports, carrying you between concourses. It’s speed is constant, but during the time you stand on the walkway, you get to stay in one place while things whirl around you. The walkway beneath your feet is whisking you away to your final destination, and you really don’t do anything but just trust in purpose behind the aroma of burnt rubber coming from the ground below you.
And then I woke up. It honestly wasn’t one of my more intriguing dreams I’ve experienced, and yet it haunted me as I walked to the kitchen and munched on my morning rice cakes. I couldn’t even focus on my morning ritual of listening to Stephen Colbert’s sarcasm on Hulu; I just stared at the computer, zoning out, dwelling on this airport dream to the beat of my teeth crunching hardened rice cakes.
And then, being the conspiracy-theorist-who-always-has-an-affinity-for-finding-symbloic-meaning-in-anything-and-everything that I am, my heart aligned with my head and said, “Aha! This is exactly how you’ve been feeling all along.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still on some sort of moving walkway, but in reality. However, unlike the airport’s movable walkway, we do not recall how we got on ours in the first place. The walkway behind us often is shrouded in mist while the walkway ahead, except for the first couple of feet, always remains a dense fog. And yet we can still look to our left and our right and enjoy our limited view. We can watch others watching us from their own walkways: this incurs jealousy perhaps, as we glimpse other walkways moving faster or in a more interesting direction. I also find this slightly melancholy, as few walkways remain in our sight throughout our journey, and deep friendships are so highly valued to me. But I digress.
I think the only reason that we are even aware of our existence on a walkways is because things are happening all around us. Suns rise and set. Seasons pass and return. Things that looked shiny and new last year lose their luster this year.
Yet trying to find the edges of the walkway is as futile as trying to sail off the edge of the world. Space and time curve all around us. We cannot see the curve, but we feel its truth: that we are a singularity in space and time. Ephemeral things, some alive and some not, surround us. At it’s best, life resembles a magnificent kaleidoscope: we are sitting in a theater and our life is unfolding on the screen.
It is natural to wonder what happens when the movie that is our life ends. Are there credits? Were we really its producer and director, or just the unknowing actors? And who the hell was my makeup artist, because I have a few choice words for her. These may be impenetrable questions, yet sages and common people have pondered them for time immemorial.
The atheist believes that when our movie comes to and end, the lights go out and we are simply nothingness. The theist believes there is a producer: Some believe there is a producer and director. The producer is called God. The Christians call the director Jesus. The Muslims call him Muhammad. The Hindus believe there are many producers and directors, and they often slip between their roles. Some of these directors coach us more than they coach others. The Buddhists think that like the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, when you pull back the curtain you find another human like yourself (perhaps yourself) at the control directing the special effects. The agnostic doesn’t know if there are producers or directors. He does not exclude them but has a hard time trusting what he cannot see. The humanists are unconcerned about how we got on the walkway or where it will end, but is only concerned about the state of the walkway right now and how we can all live more happily in the present.
I’m starting to get the feeling that the longer you stay on the walkway, the more you feel the past fade. You see the collection of things you have surrounded yourself with disintegrate before your eyes. You watch people, many of them loved ones, mysteriously drop off the walkway altogether, particularly as they age. The more you witness these events, the more certain you become that your walkway will end for you too at some murky time in the future. A relative handful finds the walkway very annoying. They take their own lives, figuring wherever they end up, if anywhere, is less painful than the present.
So … how should you spend your time while you remain on the walkway? Some people are much more concerned about the next walkway, advising that we should spend much of our time on this walkway preparing the next one. For theists there are generally two walkways that occur after death: one toward heaven, glory and salvation and the other toward hell and misery. To the Buddhist, our walkways sort of cycle backs on itself. They are confident that after death we are quickly deposited into another walkway. While our memories of our last life will be erased, we will carry our personalities and predispositions into the next life. Nirvana is the act of getting off the time stream altogether. Meditation and living simply are the keys. Enlightenment is the goal. You reach nirvana when you have achieved full enlightenment. Then they assert the carousel finally stops, you can dismount, exit and see what, if anything, is real.
As I enter into my 20’s, grabbing the reins of adulthood somehow makes me feel that life is, in reality, fleeting. It feels like I am at the bow of a ship heading into the wind. The wind tears across my face, but the infinite sea ahead is as mysterious and impenetrable as ever. Strangely, we are to accept that I am born to die and that’s just the way it is. It is natural to be inquisitive about dying and death, but to be obsessive about it the way I am inclined to be right now, ultimately seems a great waste of my life’s energies. Whatever movie I am in, it is not a bad movie and it gets more engrossing as the years pass.
It seems more natural to be in the moment than to peer into an impenetrable far future. I see progress in myself and in my life. I feel grounded, but not rooted. This walkway, right now, at this moment- this is where I am, and this is where I belong. This moment was not created only to dwell on another moment in the future. This moment is mine: This moment is life.