In Regards to Tragedy; or, Utterly Meaningless

And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is he who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun. 

 

In the Wake of Terror Journalism

Some will look and see it as the end of a day's labor. Some will see it as the start of a shift. Some will drink its beauty, its purple-soaked clouds, from a rocking chair on the porch. Some will dread its thievery of the light keeping demons and ghosts at bay. 

We've yet to come to a consensus on a sunset. Those working a night shift will see it quite differently than those who wait until dark to haunt a tavern until the light returns; the child will see it with despair, the parent with delight, for bed is coming. The scientist checks the hour with an atomic clock. We cannot all agree on it, but we still get a new one every day anyway. Like another chance to come to a consensus. 

The sun set a week ago in Orlando, but that wasn't our concern that day. We weren't trying to agree on how to think of it. We were consumed, instead, with talks of gun legislation, of righteous indignation, of Islamic-Extremist-versus-Lone-Wolf-Nutjob, of a Yahweh scourge, of a tragedy for human rights, of homophobia. 

Some, though, wept for their friends. Their brothers. Their lovers. 

Many others were figuring out what that particular sunset, red with blood, meant. 

Some looked at it and saw wicked sinners come to a timely end. They spoke of the sin of homosexuality and hedonism, how a righteous God had turned them to pillars of ash. 
They were wrong.

Some looked at it and saw the slippery-slope of gun laws. They wrote horror pieces on assault weapons and mourned the sale of bullets to people who meant only harm: shields are for defense; weapons are for killing. Some tearfully read the names of the victims on CNN beneath of a montage of forty-nine faces and then declared that the culprit was not a Muslim gunman, but an anti-homosexual agenda pushed by the right wing. 
They were wrong, too.

May we not force an agenda on the setting sun of the Orlando attack. Wide though its implications may be, human beings are not implications of an action or pawns in political chess. If there be any dignity left in journalism, any compassion remaining in the collective human heart, any light piercing the black reaches of the Internet, let us leave the dead to be buried, the families to grieve, and the once-held lovers to crave a vacant warmth even in the nightly heat of an Orlando summer.  

The sun has set, proof that that the Earth is turning. Let it spin for a bit. Let them ask their whys and grapple with the lonely days ahead. 

Should this reach those who are directly affected by Orlando's shooting, stop here. Turn off the Internet, quit your media, sit and grapple and grieve. In no way do we attempt to offer you consolation; we desire only that you have whatever space you need. We do not dare offer a solution when a shoulder will suffice.

 

In the Desperation of Searching

Meaningless, says the teacher. 
Utterly meaningless! 
Everything is meaningless.
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

For the rest of us.

Our desire to place horror into a category is neither something new, nor something we can stop. The human brain is designed with causality in mind. This because that. It's how the Universe works, from the asteroid to the atom. 

That we want to know why a man would do such a thing as shoot up a nightclub full of people isn't surprising. We've come up with myriad reasons. It's because of Radical Islam. It's because of regressive homophobic rhetoric. It's because of mental illness. It's because of guns. It's because of God's wrath. 

We can come up with whatever reason we like and stick by it. We can argue it vehemently to our opposition. We can write it on our blogs and in our newspapers. 

Meaningless, says the teacher.
Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.

You can come up with a reason for anything you see, and three people will refute it. You could express it with glimmering words, believe it with your whole heart, justify it and patent it as your own, and still be alone in your belief. 

Your words will come and go; your books will collect dust and decay; our pale, blue jewel will continue its dance around the golden orb in a distant corner of an infinite universe. 

Meaningless, says the teacher.
Utterly meaningless!

You can resign your fight for the absurdity of truth-seeking to the heady pedants with their books and pens and navel-gazing. You can recognize the inevitable end of each heart's beating and take to the streets, searching every palace of pleasure or every quest for the wealth of men to complete you, perhaps to distract you, from the yawning, gaping end of the journey. 

You can recognize the cosmic worthlessness of seeking ideas and decide, instead, to eat, drink, and be merry--for tomorrow you die. And if not tomorrow, then the next. And if not then, then the day after that. 

You can find your solace in the bottle or in the arms of a lover and have the roar of wind from the cavern of the end quelled for a moment. You can beat that sound back by the sheer force of your will, by the daily carpe. By the pursuit of individual strength and the joy of having captured every moment you've encountered. 

Meaningless, says the teacher.

Still your end will come. Still your philosophy will be embraced by people who will die. Still your sacrifices will be burned. Still your wealth will be buried beside your corpse or distributed to the masses to be buried beside theirs. Still your glass can be emptied just to be filled, and then emptied again. Still the road stretches on, and no amount of foot-bleeding walking will see it all. 

Still the storm will rage and your ship will be battered by it. Should you be toppled or persevere, there is nothing new under the sun. And everything you've done will be

meaningless.

 

In the Finding of Light

How cruel it is to be filled with this emptiness! We are a people left in the dark and given matches to fight it which illuminate and are consumed by their illumination. Some find a flashlight whose batteries last for years. Some with a kinetic crank to last even longer. 

But the batteries will expire. Your muscles keeping the crank turning will tire. The darkness comes and can only be overcome by light, but everything we seem to do to produce it ends up burning out. Our fuel is consumed, our electrons spent. 

My friends, this is where we are left. It is the destination that senseless tragedy begins points us toward, and the road on which it will leave us. It is for you as it has been for each soul who has walked our pale blue dot: Some have sought, others have not; all has been proven meaningless by the persistent sunsets and inevitable sunrises which eventually wipe each chalked-up slate clean. 

Our cisterns are cracked; our water tepid and teeming with sick. 

And yet. 

Our holes cry for a filling which we cannot, for all of our searching, obtain. Our darkness gropes for a spark that burns eternal, separate from the expendable replacements we find to occupy our hands. The tragedy we experience time and again seeks desperately for a relief from it--our samsara cries for a moksha

Each system that the world has to offer has pointed us toward what they believe will relieve us of this infinite weight. The Buddhists recognized that life is suffering; their relief is found, though, in escaping it entirely. The great release into the blank white of Nirvana, where nothing is and where nothing will continue to be forever. Do not fight it, they say; embrace it. Master it. Do not search for the light, but resign to the darkness. They point to a noble path that will envelop you in it.

Capitalism rightly recognizes that you are empty and must be filled; its relief comes from an endless, thirstier filling. Buy the right pair of shoes, see the right film, eat the right food, and you will forget that you are going to die. Repeat your consumption when you're emptied, as you always will be. It acknowledges the longing and points to the path that will resign you over to it endlessly.

The same for the Muslims, the Communists, the Spiritual, the Secular. For Hollywood, for Budweiser, for Kim Jong Un. For the Religious. For the Nihilists. Everything is meaningless, they will agree. Here is how to fix it, they will offer.

The problem is that everything we are handed will rot; if it does not rot, our hands will, and it will have been in vain. 

How beautiful, then are the words that Jesus spoke to Peter: "What is it to you?" 

He speaks it to each of us.

"The world is full of terror and uncertainty." What is it to you?

"I've sought and could not find reason." What is it to you?

"I have so many questions, and the answers never come--even from YOU, Jesus. Every time I ask, you seem silent. Every hopeless endeavor ends the same. Every insult I hurl your way can't get past my lips. Every inquiry remains unanswered. No matter what I find myself doing, the farther I look down the road, the more meaningless it becomes. The more unfulfilled I am." 

What is it to you? 

"As for you," he replied to Peter, and also to each person reading this, asking this, screaming this, hurling their questions into a void, staring at their overwhelming brevity sandwiched by eternity in both directions, slopping up anything that promises them freedom from the pain just to be drawn back to it to drink deeper;

"As for you," He said, knowing full well that the sum of our projects and the best we could conjure will be utterly meaningless, erased by a thousand sunsets;

"As for you," He said to the grieving, to the widow, to the orphan;

"As for you," He said to the sick and the healthy, to the rich and to the poor, to the invalid and the introvert and the irate;

"As for you," you who are searching, you who are questioning, you who are eating, drinking, and being merry to forget that tomorrow you die, who follow the forest of paths we are told will lead us to where we think we want to be;

As for you, follow Me. 

 

 

When one day it is time for me to leave
I will not be afraid to finally go.
I will not rage against the swelling sea.

The water will come rushing over me--
Just like it has and will for ages more--
When one day it is time for me to leave.

One thing is certain in this shrinking sphere:
The sun will set on every bounding soul;
I will not rage against the swelling sea.

The man I am reflects the man I'll be
Today is but a shade of tomorrow--
When one day it is time for me to leave.

My father told me, "don't be scared to breathe
Even though one day you'll breathe no more."
I will not rage against the swelling sea.

Too many fear the stillness still to be,
For they have wasted life, and love, and war.
When one day it is time for me to leave,
I will not rage against the swelling sea.