Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Humanity - Part 5

Part 5

I found the first dead bodies the next morning.  Death has always been surreal to me, its presence accompanying life as a final companion.  Man spends his days trying to avoid death, hardly stopping to consciously think he is avoiding it.  Though the religious man contemplates it, death is merely seen as a gateway to life.  Death, in all its finality, is a thing to be avoided, but its end is one of few absolutes in human existence.
    My hosts had not been so fortunate to avoid death and I found them in it’s final grasp.  One was laying in a bed I was thankful I had not slept in, the other in a chair opposite.  Some time had allowed decomposition to set in, significant enough that any lingering scent had all but gone.  I guessed they had been here for more than a year, but I was no expert on the matter.
    They seemed to have died peacefully, both in calm repose.  This was not a scene of horror, although a body marked by death hardly culls up feelings of peace.  It was obvious that these two had chosen to die here.
    They were man and woman, I guessed husband and wife, perhaps done in by some sickness.  I looked in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom hoping for some revelation of their fate.  I found none. The two had simply died here.
    I felt slightly morbid for having stayed in their house.  I had impinged upon their burial ground.   I backed out of the room and made my way to the kitchen.   For a few moments I stood, unsure of what to do.  I opened a few cabinets and took what little nonperishable supplies were left, but couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was taking was not mine.
    I was overwhelmed with pity then, for the hopelessness in the way they had died, both resigned to their fate.  Looking over this foreign home, I couldn’t help but be burdened with a sense of their loss.  All I could think of was this couple happily enjoying their home, the couch, the art I had admired, and the  intimacy shared in the bedroom that had become their final resting place.  Family photos were scattered about the living room.  There were scenes of children and grandchildren, a legacy of joy.  I saw a happy couple before tragedy had befallen their world.  I felt human then, and that comforted me.  In that moment it mattered not wether any society or culture was left.  Humanity resided within me.  Who I was and the sympathy I now felt wasn’t determined by a culture, a city, a hero, or history.  I loved and I felt and I was human.  I took solace in that.  Humanity may have decayed and created this world, but I had not, I still felt, I still breathed, I still lived.  If the last vestiges of humanity resided within me, I resolved to do it justice.
    I approached the bedroom again and spoke out loud for the first time since coming from the cabin.  My voice surprised me.
    “I’m sorry for what happened to you,” I said.  “Thank you for your hospitality.  I’ll carry your memory with me.  You don’t have to worry, I’ll do humanity justice.”  That seemed fitting.  It wasn’t simply these two I was speaking too.   It was each family in this neighborhood, each surrounding city.  It was for the innocent that had suffered in all this.  Whatever had happened here, these were not the purveyors of this violence.  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.  Behind these atrocities lies mankind’s desperate bid for power.  It always does.
    In the garage, I found a car.  The keys were still hanging on the key-rack.  I threw open the garage door, silently thanked the owners for the use of their car and left that neighborhood.  I was deep in contemplation and a half day’s drive from my home.
        The human being seems to understand himself in light of the people around him.  I had defined myself by the lack of others around me, but that predicated itself on the existence of others.  I didn’t understand that until now.  I had removed myself from society because I felt more comfortable by myself, but I now realized that I was only human in how I related to others.  I was human because I empathized, sympathized and honored.  While at the cabin I think I wrote to remain human.  I made myself believe I was an objective observer of humanity, but objectivity didn’t exist.  The more I strived to become objective the more subjective I became.  I couldn’t be objective because I was human.  All of what made me me was in my relation to other people.  No other being on earth had the power to define itself in that way.  I could not be objective about humanity because I myself was human, the subject.  I saw in a moment how Kierkegaard, Epicurus, Socrates, Lucretius and all philosophers were flawed.  They attempted objectivity in humanity but were always influenced by who they had become in relation to other humans.  Every hurt, wound, smile, and laugh that others had caused shaped them.  Their entire existence was subjective, just as mine was.
    Flawed characters are the most interesting because we can identify with flaws.  We see our flaws in how we relate to others, and in that way they define us.  When we see flaws in others we are immediately drawn to them because we are flawed ourselves.
    I drove, lost in thought, not paying much attention to the passing scenery.
    Epicurus had defined his philosophy on his own desires and passions, believing that the experience of those wants and needs were the reason for existence.  Maybe he saw in all men the potential for good, but all men don’t share in his equanimity.  Years of misunderstanding would turn his philosophy into the free-for-all, morally degraded society that ancient Rome became.  Kierkegaard based his view of faith on the dissolution of his engagement to the woman he loved, seeing in himself a tragic hero.  He believed life could only be understood in the absurd and illogical.  Men took his thoughts and ran with them, looking for some illogical experience to give them meaning.  Surely Kierkegaard, a man of deep, resolute faith never intended for this.
    Philosophers failed not in themselves, but in the men that followed them.  These followers took one man’s conclusions and applied them universally, rather than letting those conclusions inspire them to live their own life as they were made to live it.  Perhaps the greatest thinkers are those that reduced life to the simplest of anecdotes.  Is it possible they discovered that life could only be understood by living it?  The Proverbs of Solomon and the saying of Confucius give wisdom it’s simplest form in some of the most profound statement ever recorded.
    It was precisely then that I heard the voice.
    I looked around querulously, wondering what I was hearing.  It took a few moments to register that it was coming from the radio.  When it dawned on me I reached down and turned the volume up.  The voice then announced what I knew was the end of the world.
    “...55 PM, a nano-virus was released on the general public.  The virus spreads rapidly, stay indoors.  Repeat, do not go outside.  Contact with infected members will result in eventual death.  End message. This is an emergency broadcast.  At 6:55 PM a nano-virus...”
    The soothing, feminine voice repeated it’s message ad infinitum.  I had no way of knowing how long this harbinger had been sounding her gong.  Somewhere between the 5th or 6th repetition I shut the radio off.  I drove in silence for a while.  The soft voice that had conveyed humanities death stroke to me was an odd contradiction.  It was the first voice I had heard since returning to find the world the way it was, I hoped it was not the last.
    I drove in what was now a grave silence, unsure that the destination I longed to reach was even where I wanted to be.  The concept of home had felt safe in my thoughts but now that sanctity was challenged.
    When civilizations decay, the bubonic plague is born.  When humanity decays, man births his own killer plague.  Men are capable of great highs and ignoble lows.  It seemed as though when man’s grasp of technology became complete he created his own killer.  Man had preemptively cast his own stone.
    I wept for the innocent and felt little remorse for the guilty.  In the demise of humanity I had found mine.  I wept for my mother and my father, I wept for my friends, I wept for the losses of others.  And in that hopelessness, resolve was born.   At first merely a glimmer, and then it increased.  A steely resolve formed and took shape and multiplied.  Each tear, each loss served to fertilized the soil in my heart.  The more I lamented the loss of humanity, the more I decided that I must continue it.  I resolved for each Ghandi, each Jesus, and each Mother Teresa to find other people and speak of the nobler things.  To reinvent society.  Humanity at once was his own destroyer and his own purifier.  Where people existed I would spread this message: You are human because you love.

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