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the skunks of los feliz
3.05.2004
 
Boy, just when I was starting to be okay with the immutable realities of existence, just when I was beginning to accept my place in the universe, just when the Zen practice was really starting to pay dividends, I stumble across this cheerful little piece.
So, it's hard enough to accept your own mortality, but, hey, what choice do you have? Sure, you can go insane, or crawl into a bottle and stay there, smoking cigarettes and watching Star Trek reruns. And, believe me, I've gone both those routes. Alternately, you can rationalize it away, telling yourself something along these lines: "Okay, so I'm a dead man anyway, you gotta live till you die. Enjoy it while you can and take comfort in the fact that the universe is infinite and you have some sort of important part to play. After all, an infinite universe needs infinite observation by intelligence, otherwise it has no meaning. Therefore, as an observer of the universe, my life has meaning. In fact, I am part of a chain of beings that stretches forward into infinity, and may even include intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Wow, I actually feel better. Wait. What's that you say? The universe is not infinite? Either it expands to the breaking point and dissolves into black, empty entropy, or collapses in upon itself in a spectacular moment of self-immolation? Ah, shit."
At which point you make a run to Cap N Cork and buy a bottle of tequila and a pack of American Spirits, curl up in front of your enormous TV and try to fill the emptiness in your soul, comforted in the knowledge that Jean-Luc Picard never sweats out the night in the grip of existential dread.
It's hard to fathom the end of all existence. Shit, it's hard to fathom existence. During my hikes in Griffith Park, I sometimes touch the exposed rock face of the Santa Monica's and try to comprehend the untold age, and immensity of that mountain range. Standing atop Mt. Hollywood and looking out (on a clear day) at the basin, the bay, the valley, the snow-capped San Gabriel's, the rectilinear sprawl of Los Angeles stretching as far as the eye can see, I catch a glimmer of something profound and inexpressible. I think of all the other cities, mountains, seas, deserts, jungles, forests, plains, rivers, animals, and people, billions of them and I feel, not small, but connected.
I want to believe that they, if not I, will always be. If not here on earth, which will one day be consumed by its dying sun, then somewhere, anywhere, out there, in the vastness of the universe, for infinity. The thought that this is not the fate of the universe is enough to take take the wind right out of the most stout-hearted optimist's sails.
Stephen Crane summed the whole mess up pretty damned well in "The Open Boat":

"When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.

Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: "Yes, but I love myself."

A high cold star on a winter's night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation."

Of course, we now know that Crane's pitiless star and the universe that contains it are as mortal as we are. And the universe, through we who are its consciousness, surely feels the fetid breath of mortality tickling the hairs on the back of its neck.
So, see you at Cap N Cork. I'll be morose looking guy buying the big bottle of cheap hooch. We can make a toast to the end of the world.

 
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