Here's a little thought that I've been turning around in my head of late. It's not the first time the question has been posed over these last few thousand years since we left the plains and began domesticating dogs and cows. Far greater minds than mine have posed it and possibly even answered it. Nevertheless, I think that mankind ( I thought of using the word "humanity" but that seems in too short of supply to toss it around idly) needs to revisit the matter and to acknowledge an answer that may cause some deep consternation.
Let's use some numbers that are quite general solely in order to make the overall question more easily grasped. Let's suppose that the universe is, as Stephen Hawking and others believe, perhaps ten billion years old (a round number that easiest to use in this instance). Let's also suppose that humans have a rounded off life span of a century. These agreed upon suppositions would translate into each lifetime covering the grand span of .00000001 of 1% of the age of the universe (that's one one hundred millionths of one percent * ).
Now, imagine that the whole idea of an "afterlife" is just so much superstition and useless hope for some celestial reward system. With that as a basis to begin with, we would arrive at a world that allows each bi-pedal, self-aware, tool and language using creature on this earth just one one hundred millionth of all of history to move about and interact with its environment and to intermingle with the other billions of individuals that inhabit this small dust speck in a planetary system that we are learning isn't that rare in a galaxy that is mundane in its ordinariness.
Now, if you were told by your doctor that you had ten days to live, how you want to spend it? Would you immediately go to your office and catch up on some e-mail and maybe dot all the p's and q's in that Acme widget contract? Would you rush over to your financial advisor and demand that he find some way to make you richer in the next ten days? How about playing a round of golf? Or catching a movie or a rerun of a sitcom you've seen twice before? Or finding someone to listen to your complaints about how the government takes all of your money? Or explaining why the poor want to be poor or how they're just lazy? Would you go join the military, figuring to take a few of the old "Godless Heathens" along with you? Would you run down and picket the neighborhood abortion clinic or engage in a bit of cross burning? Would you figure you have enough time to finish that "Bodice Ripper" that's been sitting on the nightstand the last few weeks? What would you find important enough to spend your suddenly very limited lifetime on?
Let's go back to that doctor's office and have another talk with him. This time he's a bit more certain of the diagnosis and he says that, instead of just ten days, you really have ten years left to live. Would your priorities suddenly change? Would you feel that you have this huge span of time to waste in ordinary activities or would you look at the extra time as a sort of a gift to be spent wisely?
Sadly, the reality is that, for an awful large number of the passengers on this planet, ten days to live will be nine days and twenty three hours fifty nine minutes and fifty nine seconds more than it took to read this. For others, it may be twice that many or a hundred of a thousand times that many. The certainty, though, is every child that is born is immediately infected with an always fatal disease; life. No one ever gets out of here alive and no one ever comes back to talk about anything better or worse that comes after that last, shuddering breath (the myths and miracles of superstitions aside).
From the moment that you are wrenched screaming, cold, surprised and alone from the warmth and security of your mother's womb your countdown to the end immediately begins. Many lives are taken away just moments after that traumatic experience called birth while many will walk the surface of this world for the full measure of one one hundred millionths of one percent of eternity. The vast majority will fall sometime after the first and before the latter but, unless you find yourself sitting in the old electric chair being strapped in, none of us truly knows the hour that we will cease either wasting our precious time here or adding some benefit that will leave a legacy that enables one to die with pride.
You and I and every other living, thinking being on this planet must come to the realization that spending their meager share of eternity in the simple-minded and common pursuit of wealth or power is actually pretty much a waste of the priceless gift of life. That stupid and self-centered justification for greed of "He who dies with most toys wins!" must be amended to the stark reality that "He who dies with the most toys is still just dead!" Your toys will never be a justification for a life misspent in greed and selfishness and avarice. They will only be things that will rust or burn or be thrown out on the day of your death but, without any exceptions, they will decay and disappear soon after you begin your molecular return to the soil and the stars, courtesy of the soil's bacteria and the ever present earthworms (the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out ...).
Once one realizes that they are already under a sentence of death, what becomes of paramount importance? Knowing that each sunrise can either be another opportunity to give towards the future or to merely grasp for the present, what becomes your life's ambition? If life is acknowledged as not only short but also unique to each soul (if you will), how do you see your time as best being spent on?
If you look at life as a gift and an opportunity to be engaged with others, you can use your short attendance at this dance to sell the tickets and refreshments and count the gate all night. You can play in the band and watch the world enjoy the music that you produce and the joy and freedom that it offers. Or, of course, you can grab the nearest bi-pedal life form and absorb yourself in some serious boogie. For that matter, you might want to just find a comfortable place to relax and enjoy the music and the energy of the happiness that surrounds you.
Of all these choices, which do you think will make you happiest and most fulfilled at the end of the day? Isn't it possible for all to trade places with another as the dance progresses? The one that makes the refreshments today might play the tunes the next. The dancer might become the wallflower and the observer the dancer. Would there be any need for tickets if all were to share the duties and the joy? Would there be any need for the exchange of wealth if all received their own space on the floor? For that matter, why should anyone be barred entrance to this joyous little party only because they cannot provide the needed payment at the door? Must they be always excluded from the happiness and warmth that they can just barely hear and feel coming from just the other side of that door?
But wait! Some will certainly proclaim that mankind must continue the capitalist system so that each of us can see who the winners and losers are. No one will work unless they are awarded with material goods meaning that no one will ever accomplish anything. After all, look at the poor! They just take drugs and make babies and suck up the old welfare, don't they?
Well, no! They don't. The man or woman who would refuse to spend their time in an enjoyable and respected calling are truly few and far between. They are no more the rule than the notion than the idle children of the rich suck at the teat of welfare for the rich through the abolition estate and capital gain taxes and the like.
As for drugs, the sickness of greed and the accumulation of mere wealth is a far more dangerous drug that any sold on dark street corners and is more harmful to the many than the addictions of the few.
All human beings have an inner drive to create and to bestow their talents, no matter how meager, towards the betterment of all. It is the barriers of class and education and health and social temperament that holds back so many. It is the hopelessness and the depression of poverty that holds so many in its grip, creating the impression of sloth where only misery exists.
While I concede that there will always be the millstone of Republicans trying to suffocate the human spirit, once the majority of the human race acknowledges that justice and fairness are the only goals worthy of our short moment in time, then the need for "more" can be replaced with the concept of "enough". Once humanity gains the principle of humility that serving the needs of the many offers a far higher moral calling than the insatiable thirst for accumulation by the few at the expense of the many, then perhaps we can begin to spend this smoke-thin slice of eternity creating something decent, something loving, and something lasting.
While being guilty of wasting much of my existence on useless and unprogressive undertakings, the clarity of this other path shines through my every day. I do not want to die remembering the exhaust that I spewed into my child's air nor the acts of malevolence that we each have hiding in the darkest corners of our memories. I do not want to leave behind only memories of things, since all things will decay at the same rate as the meat that carries my fleeting awareness from place to place.
As I lie, slowly feeling the flickering candle of life growing dim, I hope to look back at the smiles and the comfort that I helped, in some small way, to bring forth into this world. I know that I have this one, ephemeral opportunity out of all eternity to make a mark within the hearts and the futures of those less capable or, in all honesty, simply less fortunate than I. I want to consider my time well spent and, with even the slightest good luck at all, to be remembered with kindness and a regret that I have gone.
How do you spend your time? What do you find important now that you know you're going to die in the near future? Will you dedicate yourself to the perpetration of a superstition in hopes that the act of believing in the unseen and the unknowable will bring you to a place occupied only by others as gullible and as sheep-like as you? Will you get back down to work, nose to the grindstone, working late and weekends in order to leave behind some transitory material possessions? Will you spend you remaining days and hours teaching the coming generations of the hope and the integrity that should be the birthright of all sentient creatures or will you instruct the children in war and violence and greed?
Remember, gentle readers, on the scale of eternity, your death is imminent. What is important? What is illusory and passing? What will create a place of honor for your name in the memories of the coming generations and what will create a lasting legacy of hope and contentment? None of us have any time to waste in the process. The next blink, the next breath could the final one for any of us. Death is certain. Nothing else is.
* If any of you mathematically inclined readers see an error in that, I'd like to know in order to correct it.
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