Updated: December 15, 2012 9:30PM
Our ancestors feared that the sun, which in this season sinks ever lower in the heavens, might vanish altogether some year and never return. While they knew little about photosynthesis or how sunlight produces vitamin D, the ancients surely understood that the world would end if the sun skipped off for good. Little wonder they partied heartily every year when daylight finally waxed instead of waned, thus assuring that life would continue for a while.
How tempting to judge those long-gone folks naive and superstitious. After a dozen or so generations had watched the same heavenly rhythms, could they not trust them to continue faithfully as day follows night?
Today, our forebears no longer appear so silly. Or more accurately, their ignorance in no way surpasses our own. We have our own versions of carefully cultivated dread in the face of this or that pseudo-apocalypse. Those who get their daily dose of reality from newspapers rather than from pop-culture and social media have perhaps paid little heed to the looming end of the world as supposedly prophesied by ancient Mayan calendar-makers. But who among us news junkies can ignore completely the specter of our civilization speeding over the edge of a fiscal cliff and landing in monetary perdition come New Year’s Day?
Granted, our leaders and legislators haven’t proved themselves trusty as the sun and its annual solstice habit, but haven’t we been here before? Every few months we seem to race like lemmings toward the edge of some financial abyss, assuming all the while that someone in the great game room we call Congress will blink and at the last instant stave off disaster.
Even if this time we fly off the precipice, however, so far as I can tell, the game card we’ll draw from the Monopoly board will only take us back to Bill Clinton’s taxation era. I don’t recall that we sweat bullets over the economy back then. Indeed, we had a surplus of revenue, the market thrived and our pension funds grew. It wasn’t a trouble-free time. We did, after all, get our knickers in a pretty tight twist about office sex and, for lack of anything better to do, we debated the meaning of “is.” But we didn’t presume to see the end of the world from there.
Somehow or another, we would survive a trip backward in tax time.
As usual, however, our preoccupation with trivial and contrived endings allows us to ignore the signs and meaning of our ultimate, all-too-certain finitude. This world, including our planet, is passing away. It may take a few billion years before our sun dies and Earth becomes just one more icy rock in space, but this exquisite place of sunsets, mountains, flowers, and human thriving has only this brief moment suspended in eternity, just like everything else we love.
More importantly for now, the few moments in time that remain for our dear ones to whom death draws near have an incalculable preciousness. We cannot hoard them or save them somehow, nor make them any more precious by lamenting their rapid, inexorable passing. We can, however, share them with our presence, and by means of nothing more profound than a thankful heart we can honor both the giver and receiver of this or that unique life and all the things those eyes saw, and everything that throat and tongue celebrated when it sang the songs that poured from a grateful heart that for now still pulses like our own, beat after beat, until ...
That end-of-the-world scenario is without question worth our precious time.