I’ve never been at ease with the nothingness.
The amorphous unknown from which we come and to which we go.
Even as a youngster the mystery of our source troubled me. Confounded the sense of order I inherently believed the universe should possess.
And so during my early years, like an artist or author, I endeavored to instill every vacuum with pattern. With meaning.
When even those efforts toward order would not quell my discomfort, I began to hold fast to every moment. To clutch them firmly against my chest. And wring from each every scented drop I could.
Long were the nights I spent gazing down at my sleeping child. Marveling at the steady breath. The innocent rouge cupping cheeks. The soft loop of lips.
As I grew older this practice of clutching became increasingly urgent. For by then I’d come to feel the very real sense of time slipping away. And of me sliding inexorably toward an edge.
At that point my discomfort morphed into something more akin to fear.
Of course we’re all fully aware that time passes. That it cannot be stilled or even diverted. That it runs its course with a tenacity no river or beam of light can achieve.
All this is well and good and easily filed under the heading “business as usual” – until age sets in. When the overarching sense becomes not of time slipping by, but of it running out.
Strangely, this sense became most acute for me in small, self-contained moments. Those that emphasized the impossibility of return. Such as seeing my child spring across a threshold she once struggled to mount. Recalling the ways of a youthful lover long gone. And later, catching a glimpse of my hand bent around a coffee mug and wondering to which old person it belonged.
I cannot discount the charm this act of recollection sometimes induced. But even this was quickly followed by a sense of dread.
Dread, I suppose, of the unknown. Of the finish.
In these dark hours how I wished I could embrace the easy, pre-packaged answers that earlier Eras had espoused. Adopting perhaps an imagined god or eternal domain to which I might ascend, unharmed.
Such difficult moments infused me with the deepest compassion for human creatures.
For here we are, set adrift on a shard, a cosmic flint, floating through bottomless space without the slightest idea how or why we came to such a predicament. Much less its ultimate purpose.
Stress might not be inherent to such a situation, of course. It is doubtful that a cricket worries much over it. But unlike our fellow creatures we are possessed of an unquenchable desire to wonder at our position. To scrape and claw at the surface in search of answers we may never find.
And while suspended here to contemplate this gorgeous but agonizing limbo what is the one certainty bestowed upon us? The reward we are all sure to collect?
The inevitable demise of everyone and everything we love – including, at last, our own self.
It is sometimes hard to perceive our circumstance as anything other than cruel. A condition we have labored for centuries to endure through the creative efforts of art, science, philosophy, religion – any and every means at our disposal.
It remains unknown if our output amounts to anything in spheres beyond our own. But what is certain is that we could not exist without it. Our collective urge to know, to create, to discover being inherent. Stitched into our fiber at birth.
This urge, at last, has proven the one guiding principle of my life. And the only entity to whom I’ve bowed.
For better or worse.
It is not an easy hand-me-down road. And I will not pretend it offers a final peace with the unknown. Nor that I will pass from this life with the comfort of the believer.
But, in the end, following the urge has proven the only tolerable path for me.
My nature, tragically or heroically, would allow no other way.
And for this I am, as we all are, due some compassion.
(to be continued)
Copyright © 2015 Kristen Wolf. All rights reserved.
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