So this is goodbye. The world, as we've known it for that incredibly small slice of time designated as "recorded history,' goes kaput on December 21, 2012. Or so some believe.
Of course, people have thought this before. Many times, in fact. The obsession with the End Times goes back as far as at least Jesus. "I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." In any case, I won't rehash that history for you -- it's well known.
What I want to discuss for a moment is not the ending date but rather December 22, 2012. If we're all gone, then it doesn't matter, of course, but if we're all here together on the 22nd, perhaps we can view this as an opportunity.
Now what do I mean by that?
There once lived an eminently sane Southern novelist by the name of Walker Percy. He wrote novels like Love in the Ruins and The Moviegoer, and he also wrote an incisive little book called Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. One of the many excellent ideas in this excellent book (really, pick it up, you'll like it) is the concept of being an ex-suicide. Not literally suicidal, but taking the idea of being a suicide seriously enough to imagine the action and its results.
Many people are non-suicidal. They may be unhappy with their lives, but they take no positive actions to remedy the situation and simply endure, either by habit or fear. The non-suicide is miserable. What Percy describes is the process of becoming an ex-suicide.
This requires a little act of imagination.
Let's say you do kill yourself. As Percy explains, the ripple effect of your life is smaller than you think. People will be affected for a while, but then they move on; such is the nature of existence that we must prefer the swirl of our own constant motion than memory frozen silent. We may be remembered, for a while, but naturally we won't be around to participate in that. We don't get to participate in anything on a personal basis any longer.
So we imagine the day after we kill ourselves. A sad day for some, a pleasant day for others, and less important than the score of that day's Knicks game for thousands. And then the long slow fade into the universe, as our constituent elements re-integrate into different patterns.
Now, having contemplated -- really contemplated -- killing ourselves -- we are free to join back with our living present. We are no longer non-suicides, but ex-suicides.
It qualifies as a kind of rebirth. We are no longer constrained by the old rules. We've already been dead.
As Percy explains:
"The difference between a non-suicide and an ex-suicide leaving the house for work, at eight o'clock on an ordinary morning:
The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.
The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn't have to."
Now many will interject at this point: this is merely a type of Existentialism lite.