The greatest fear is the same for all of us: it’s the fear of not getting back up again. It’s a death-fear, even though the body lives on in all the comfort that the greatest wealth in the world can provide. Even inside our ivory palaces we’re not safe from it. Death has a more terrifying form than physical ending, and that is to leave us as shells of walking flesh.
Winter may not end. One of these days, all hint of warmth will prove false. The sun may not rise. One of these days, our eyes will lose the ability to see it. All it takes is one cold finger down the spine from that old ghoul and we are half-drowned rats squealing in terror.
Burrow a little deeper, then. Add a few more comforts and try to clutter the landscape around us with all manner of riches, privileges, and manufactured self-martyrdoms in the pursuit of not embracing hopelessness. At least then we are dying for something of our choosing, however inane, instead of just dying. At least then the walking shell can put on a mock-up of spirit and soul.
I am one such shell, a half-drowned rat. I am floating near the bottom of a very long vertical tunnel, and I wish to heaven it were a well, because then it wouldn’t be so deep. It’s about a year long, comprising an agonized spring, a missing summer, a frozen autumn. And now, a snowless wasteland of a winter.
Every time I try to climb out of this tunnel, I fall back harder, it seems. I’m on a missing persons list, pinned to the wall and can’t escape. Flattened, monochrome, unable to push forward into full being and retake the shape of life.
People can see me there, tacked to the wall. A digital replica with a smile in place like it always was. Appearances are one thing. Breathing is another. The real me is at the bottom of the miles-long plunge.
It’s when I think of how I got here that I want to cry. By trying. Not trying to get here, trying to do what I know I should. Trying to live. A year of illness and broken bones has left me face to face with the Great Fear: maybe I won’t get back up.
I’m not done yet. I want it back. The sunshine. If my days can be shortened in a dark solstice, they can grow longer and warmer again.
I’m not convinced it’s sound, but the theory will do until disproven. It will have to do, because seasons are spinning past. And I barely notice from where I am.
I just wish I knew the mechanics of climbing out of a long, dark tunnel without a rope.
Seasons spin past. If my days can grow longer and warmer again, the rains can come again and fill even this pit, lift me up or drown me. There is no force on earth like the waters that wash all things into cleanliness or oblivion.
And if I can be lifted up, whether dead or alive in my soul, then I can see the sun again. The climb is not the task at hand. Death is here. Death is now, no matter how much we pay to decorate over it.
Living is dying. In the darkness, I am eyeball-to-eyeball with the specter that haunts us all: then why bother in the first place?
My last candle goes out.
In the waning of all self-made light, at the dark solstice, I am not sure I can answer that ghoul’s question in any inspiring way. I’m not sure I should; would it only be another blinker to shield the eyes within the ivory palace?
I have thought of lying down and not getting up again – the great fear that besets us all. I think often of surrender.
This is what makes a half-drowned rat squeal in terror. No one is listening. There is only the ghoul.
All I know with any concrete knowing is that we have it backwards, here at the height of history, where our palace walls are carefully padded with all manner of synthetic comfort, where we have made provision for the insanity deep down: buried it, caged it, pressed it flat, made it black-and-white and pinned it to the wall.
At the far end of the tunnel, looking up, there’s a window. I barely notice the seasons spinning by, but I’m not insensate yet. We have it backwards. The ancients felt and lived and breathe what we forget: Night is the beginning, not the end.
Even if I go blind, the rains will come.