The fear. It’s a striking piece of information that lands in your lap and causes more obscene gesturing than would a cup of scalding hot coffee. People go through life with the deeply held notion that there is somehow meaning behind it all. The sharp, full bodied scent of life fills the nostrils and the brain generates the right electronic signals, all cascaded to your limbs which together start the whole rollicking show off. Sometimes, when the individual is still and the heart is ardently pumping its ladles of crimson syrup up and down your inelegantly designed frame, you can actually hear the spirited murmurs of untouched thoughts curlicuing in and around your ears, “one day you’ll be dead.” The very dark thoughts that come to us at night, when the curve of the earth extends far out into our dreaming vales and the notions of equilibrium that we feel are ours in perpetuity, disappear.
Ice water is cold, but our own blood can run even colder when we alight upon that one, awful realization. Our conscience fights it tooth and nail, pushing out bitter angst lined up as riflemen to shoot down a traitor, as if we could ever kill the staunchest enemy we will ever have. Nights as dark as these only end when your neurons, all fire and loathing, are defeated by exhaustion. So you lay still and turn your mind to other thoughts and hope it never happens again. But it will. The anxiety of it creates a shadow visitor. You look at it in the light of day as a silly thing. “I am young and fit; I have a solid sixty years left in me!” But then, what if you don’t? What is the cure for this unfortunate realization? What can be done to defeat this fitful beast?
There is a place in the world at which all of man’s fears are addressed, where the hearts of both the unseemly brave and the heartened coward come together to be bolstered in the spirit. Magnificent piles of masonry torn from the earth by barely sentient serfs, stocked with bejeweled window eyes and staffed by the plump, peacock servants of the highest authority. For in every land, in every tongue, and in every time they have been here on this world to enchant the millions. The power they have, the power they hold most dear, is the power to defeat the fear. When you labor through life with no reward, they tell you all about the greatest one you’ll get with death. Death is the highest honor that can befall the lowly minions of the various lords above. In death all things become fresh, all inequalities addressed, and all love renewed. The fear loves the priest, it loves the mullah, and it certainly loves the lavish pageants devoted to its existence.
The fear of death makes us slaves to the unlived ones. They are breathing yet have no life. They, within the tireless, ageless, boundless plaza of time strive to take what is rightfully yours. The fear will never fade, but the heart that makes it can also tame it.
The attitudes that have beguiled us for millennia, the righteousness of belief in a higher power, the petulant fawning of humans for the sky gods and the lords of heaven, dancing as naked slaves for the unlived ones. Each culture carving crudely in wood or elegantly in marbles images of beings destined to take their souls and earthly wounds and wash them or punish them. The shadows of these past ancestors leaving breadcrumb trails of “insight” or powerful moral laws gifted them from burning shrubs and golden Buddhas, flicker on the cavern walls of our post-adolescence. We have come very far from fearing the wind and the rain as demon spawn, or burning at the stake women for wanting to participate in the world at the same level as a man.
We have evolved beyond the remnants of scriptures copied and recopied from someone else’s copies an untold number of years ago. We know that there are no four corners to the globe and we know that the night is no longer simmering with succubae and incubi. We do not have to bow to the priests and offer our lambs up to them for blood-red murder. We do not have to let our children be physically molested and their sexual organs mutilated for ancient words uttered from lips long since turned to dust and blown across desert dunes. We are free.
And with that freedom comes the ability to face such things as death. Life is far more important; what we do and say, what we contribute to this broken world will far outlast our measly fever dreams of angel wings and fluffy clouds. There are no virgins in paradise.
There is however the here and now. There is in all of us the glowing light of independent thought and the righteousness of discovery! The chains that bind you to tradition were put there by ghosts of ideas. They have been made to feel heavy because those that run the religious circus have become master lion tamers; what life is there in being a caged beast?
In beauty lies truth. In freedom lies true grace. In our hearts beating lies the history of our species, four billion years from amino acids to DNA to dinosaurs to Michelangelo and Carl Sagan. In ancient creation myths gods formed mankind from dust and clay. In science we know that the components that make up our bodies came from the heart of exploding stars. We once believed that washing our hands was of no practical benefit. We once believed that the Earth was orbited by the sun. We once allowed ourselves to be slaves to fairy stories and inbred kings. We once fell to our knees in supplication.
We can now stand on our feet and face the sky and know that what we are is beyond the control of dark rooms at night and the chemicals that flow through our cerebellums. We can understand the world and where we have come from.
We are no longer afraid. And we can live.