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On the End of the World

August 24, 2017

‘Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.’

- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet #8



The sky went dark on Monday afternoon; the moon ate up the sun. For two minutes and forty seconds, the world came to an end.


The word eclipse comes from the ancient Greek ekleipsis, which means ‘abandonment.’ Before 585 B.C., man did not know why or how it happened. To this disruption of order, of his life, of all that he knew and trusted, he made up explanations, meaning in stories that began with: once upon a time.


Once upon a time, the Greeks thought, this was a sign the Gods were angry. Once upon a time, countered the Chinese, a celestial dragon was hungry. The Vikings thought it was a pair of sky wolves. The Koreans, fire dogs. Or toads, or just the mouth of heaven that opened and engulfed the sun.


Christians tell of a total eclipse on the day Jesus was crucified. Muslims, of one on the day Mohammad’s son, Ibrahim, died. Hindus believe in a vindictive demon, Rahu, constantly chasing, swallowing the sun. The Batammaliba, that it and the moon are feuding, and will only stop if we do.


We now know that the moon in our orbit came between us and the sun. It was dark but it passed; it will happen again. Nothing to be afraid of.


Not the end of the world, just the end of a world; worlds end around us every day. There is a world that ends every time a fairy tale and Santa Claus stop being real. A world ends every time a pet dies or a stuffed animal is put in a box. Later, when a loved one leaves or simply stops loving us. Some worlds end with rejection letters, lottery tickets that do not win, others more subtly, in the silence of waiting rooms and phones that do not ring.


When verdicts and policies are unfair, and words and actions are hateful, when knives and vans are rammed into crowds on random summer days. We were taught to wish upon stars, but eclipses are very dark. Worlds end with disappointment, disillusion, that dusky feeling of abandonment.


And yet,


Once upon a time, tens of millions of people looked at the sky, at the same moment of the same day from one coast of a continent to the other. Whether they saw dragons, dogs, wolves, demons, or the science was irrelevant, as were age, race, gender, the past, and the cards they had been dealt. For two minutes and forty seconds they watched their separate worlds end, all of them trusting that the sun would come back and it would be light again.


It did, and it was beautiful. A 360 degree sunset. More beautiful still were the smiles and gasps that sprung across the continent.


'We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us;'


We were never promised order, predictability, happy endings to our once upon a times. We were given paths and chances and the choice to take them or not. We are free. To have dreams and work hard for them, or not. To try and try again, or not. Free to seek out new adventures, risk pain. Free to stay safe and indoors. There is no right or wrong life. There is my life, and yours. And while we may all be in the gutter,[1] to look up is a choice.


‘And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful.’


Eclipses will happen and worlds will end, but we are not prisoners or alone. The sun will still be there and we will find new stories with happy endings to tell. And over these stories and time and lives, people will still come outside, pull out their foldable chairs, hold hands, look at the sky. I believe that is called hope.





[1] Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

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