Had this conversation with a friend the other night that I found moderately depressing. Somehow we were talking about death, I can’t remember why. Anyway, he said something that seemed to put it all into perspective, something along the lines that it doesn’t really matter how long you live because there are five billion years of life on earth still to come.
Five billion years! I knew it was true but it staggered me because it not something I commonly consider. This time I did though and it made me feel very small and insignificant.
What does that mean, I wondered? Well, it means that virtually all we see and do and experience these days will one day be lost almost entirely. What looms large now will be small bumps in the course of history. The World Wars that have shaped much of the world we now live in will probably be minor events in time. More pressing issues right now, for example, resolution of the Iraq problem and who will win Australian Idol will likely be footnotes only, if that. The movies we watch, the music we listen to, will be oddities if they are attended to at all. One day, when you and I are well and truly dust, this time will be very ancient history. All the people you’ve known, your family and friends, the people you have loved, the heartache, the joy, the great moments big and small, all will be lost in the oblivion of time.
Assuming man survives those five billion years it will be a very different world. Like we witness every day, the sun will rise and set, the stars will twinkle distantly in the sky. Life as we know it though will be completely different. We will have civilised some of the planets I’m sure, and, if there are ‘aliens’ out there, I expect we’ll have met them. I could not even begin to imagine what other changes will have been wrought, but I know that if any thought is given to our time then it will be with a whimsical eye, as something so far distant as to seem unreal – the opposite end of the telescope to us. Time rolls on relentlessly, none of us can stop it.
When you look at things in this perspective you realise that we really are at the very beginning of history. It is just two millennia since Christ was crucified. Before that, there were a few thousand years of some kind of ‘human’ existence as out the mud they crawled, stood upright, found the fire and began the slow march to civilisation.
It seems to me that religion, or some yearning for spirituality, was born from the need to feel that we are not alone. We live in a world of near infinity, in space and time, much of it still dark and unexplored. Early man, looking up at the far distant stars must have felt awfully alone and isolated. They did not have the benefit of science to explain many of the things we now know. For them, existence itself must have seemed a mystery. Over years, as man developed, that sense of mystery, combined with the feeling of infinity, made man create idols to make sense of the world they saw around them and to kid themselves into the belief that they were not alone. And so there became Gods who made the sun rise and then set again; for every tree and rock there were Gods too; Gods for rain and thunder, Gods they sacrificed to for good crops, Gods that in time shaped the way they lived and in time guided their way forward. And then from many Gods there became for most religions single Gods and for each of them a human representative like Christ that the common man could somehow relate to.
Once upon a time, some clever caveman figured out how to make fire. Another created the first weapon. Bronze followed, and the invention of the wheel. Somewhere in all that, there was the first man who looked up upon the stars who felt both fear and awe and sought to explain it to himself. And so back in the cave perhaps he painted on the wall some representation of what he felt, and others seeing, saw something comforting that they too were able to feel. I’m convinced that is how religion first started: in the quest for reason and order.
As an aside, I think words like mine here are part of a similar quest and are born from a similar need: to make some sense of the world, but also to leave a mark. I don’t know where my words go or who reads them but I can’t help think that there is something defiant in the act of writing like this. Infinity reigns, one day I’ll disappear, but I exist and with something to say!
We are at the start of things, the first few millimetres of human existence and that is a scary thought. I’ve always figured that I’d like to be immortal. I’m so damn curious about what is to come. Five billion years though, that’s a long time. You’d need a good cosmetic surgeon for one thing, and you’d probably need to clean up your diet. But wouldn’t it be nice to pick up a girl five billion years in the future?
I’ve probably got no say in it, but I’m not yet convinced that I’ll go west. Too much to live for.