Our Species at Dusk

Last night I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as a happy five-year-old in this house of my grandparents, with both my Grandma and Grandpa alive, healthy and vital, the decay of the future far away or nonexistent; that present that is now the past, eternal again in a child’s unending summer day. And I found myself crying quietly in Grandpa’s study where I sleep when I come to Fresno, California to visit, because he is ten years still gone and Grandma is here in body but is barely and unrecognizably tenuously “alive” in her spirit.

I’m twenty-eight now and, for the great majority of my adult life under the rational light of the sun, I am accepting of and at peace with the situation that has come to be: our time is one of seeing more beloved elderly people slowly and pitifully die than ever before in society, proportionate to the numbers of the young who must witness it. Our grandparents and parents, once all medical cures are exhausted, languish in a half-life awaiting death, this rite of passage of which I have increasing faith in as a great liberation and the ultimate cure itself. People are living longer, but not necessarily better lives past a certain point. It became known to me in the past few years that Grandpa had considered seeking physician-assisted self-euthanasia, had his incurable physical pain become unbearable and death had not taken him in his sleep. The thought of it would have been too hard for me to handle when, at his death, I was eighteen and he was eighty, but now I have more and more serious respect for the natural and ancient dignity in such a choice. I had the freedom to euthanize my beloved cat of thirteen years when her veterinary ailments became unbearable for her, but we are in such stupid denial about the dignity of human beings in valid situations being able to choose the same for themselves. Instead, we force our beloved humans to have their butts wiped by somebody else, a humiliation that should never be forcibly born by a person because those around them are too chicken-shit to accept the reality of death in The World.

Sometimes, it’s the very resiliency of human beings that scares me so much: we can go through any hell and keep living. Other animals are not averse to the peace of death as a natural response to a suddenly severely maladaptive environment. But we humans are terrifying in our ruthless, pertinacious will to keep breathing through any plague, and now I wonder what this insect-like insistence has made of us. We have become titans of battle against everything, against our own brains and against Nature itself, and we have become unloving of Reality, at odds with The World, constantly unaccepting of the limits of the universe. Do I share in this same inclination to be at odds with The World in my childlike longing for a theoretical universe that could have (should have, would have, but only might have) been?

I was a child of the 1990s. I’ve long had a quietly uncanny feeling that something happened in the ’90s, and it was the end of the world. It was the end– or maybe the world spun off into different directions, dimensions, and this who I am in one of them is not who I am in another. And yet I do not feel divided within myself: through all my depression and the shit I went through as a kid with an insanely emotionally abusive mom with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have had the great luck of always feeling continuously whole within myself. Imaginatively, this uncanny sense of differing possible realities is more that I was pulled into one possible universe where things were not as whole all was meant to be, and something was off, only because, in contrast, I also glimpsed that deep Beauty of the Original World peeking through into this one. As a child, I saw this through the lens of my family. And who I am here have always been a little exorcist, who descended only deeply enough in time and in worlds within worlds to confront something, finish something, set something right. And any day now I will find my way back home to where I am supposed to be, waking up, relieved, from a dream.

Back in this world, I have lately been enjoying the lighter quality of trying not to feel so much all the time, for once in my life: my nature is to be so deeply feeling that it is frequently maladaptive to my environment, and I am weak and as yet unskilled in spinning this sensitivity into strands of gold. And now it suddenly and forbiddingly occurs to me that this ability to turn away from the tender heart is the necessary –and terrifyingly natural– shadow underlying my hominid ability to uncanny adaptation. How comfortable we are pressed to become among prolonged sickness and wrongful decay in our dogged search between a rock and a hard place for survival: the loss of tender feeling for that shimmering Original World, peeking through the slats of our weighted days, becomes an unbearable heartache for those with too much to carry. So much of an aging human life is full with the totalistic and unbending trial of coming to accept the absolute finality of death and loss, when still our persistent hearts in their deepest chambers yearn for life eternal. Among all of this, we must find a way to be happy– on pain of death. No wonder that those who find a path of absolute acceptable of reality while somehow keeping a tender heart are rightly called the saints of our species. And so I wonder if the Christians really have it right about something: humanity’s omnipresent longing for a semblance of eternal life, evident in all cultures, makes me wonder if there’s really something to it, in the way that hunger is an indicator that food exists somewhere.

But I am here now, born into this land of the vast old Earth, where my species is restless and beautiful and full of ancient and unknowable strangeness. Drifting into sleep last night I heard the night birds of this warm valley cooing their evening song from their perches and nests, calling steadily to their mates in their peaceful language, comforting their young in their downy breasts. I know their names, some of them, and the names and intimate formations of the trees that they love, that I love with a tender heart, that are bequeathed to me in an unending ancestry of natural lives in exchange. It was the Descent of Man, a going-down which Darwin spoke of, into the World to be among it completely, in totality. And in this moment of my brief human heart in the glorious life of the dark Earth I want nothing more than to be among the sounds of the night-songs forever, here in The World, so deeply is their avian comfort entwined with the blanketing world of the dusk, the old bones of the mother-sound of my animal life.