There is a wet-dog smell to the world today, the rain seeping into everyone’s fabrics and pores and hair and hope in the insidious unstoppable way of moisture everywhere. It is neither a cold rain or a warm one, kind of incidental and unfeeling, more than a drizzle but less than a downpour, to the point where one can walk and sit and stand in it long enough and believe that there is no other state to the sky than precipitation, mild and drowsy and endlessly wet.
I am on the train bound northeast, ever northeast, and the ads on the platforms seem even more discordant than normal with the landscape, their bright colors and outlandish claims brandished against a landscape otherwise gone monochrome. The green-gray vagueness swimming by against the bubbled pebbles of gathered water on the plastic windows’ exterior as I try to focus on capturing a series of thoughts every bit as much a moving target as my own body in this inexorable transit conveyance. The little rundown graffitied towns and rusting cars seem more melancholy than the last time, deeper reflections of a day where no one is quite happy it’s Friday. There is relief in the air, but no joy to it. Perhaps it is the apprehension of the rumors of tomorrow, the slim but inerasable possibility that this is the last night of the world.
I have been impressed with the ability of a few committed people to so thoroughly proliferate the concept that the seemingly innocuous date facing us tomorrow will be the beginning of the end. Certainly days in May always seem like the end-times to me in some way, but in no way can this or even mere spending and advertising account for the sheer universality of American awareness of May 21st’s alleged rapture. It can only speak to something deep within us, as almost all prophecies of doom and finality do. Armageddon holds the same appeal for the modern American as a snow-day for their progeny. I don’t need to do my homework or mow the lawn if it’s all going up in a fireball or under an unnavigable blanket tomorrow.
A medical education. A brand new sedan. A bundled cable package with phone and internet. Happy Hour. Cancer treatment. Business loans. A circus act.
There is a dead blue payphone booth, empty but still labeled and standing, and literally twelve visible cellular telephones, all held in the same crook-armed way of the totally absorbed, necks bent down in concentration as fingers plug away or pause mid-scroll, looks of consternation and concentration and the passive acquiescence of giving over one’s time to things that are not quite worth it. And I barely exceptional, plugging away on my portable big-screen within as they absorb and I could be writing what they could be reading and we are communicating without ever exchanging so much as a look or a sound or an acknowledgement of the other’s existence. And is it a tragedy or is it just change? Is it a loss or just a difference? And that question reflects back, reverberates through the echo-chamber of self-reflection like a nuclear-powered ping-pong ball in a zero-gravity tin-lined corridor. Plink plink plink plink plink, forever.
I am saturated. Soaked. Unable to absorb any more as the stutter-step of the train carries me endlessly to a place that would be the proverbial ground zero of any imaginable end of the world. Can I root against it any more than the self-proclaimed prophet? Can I suspend my own hubris long enough to entertain the slightly relieving possibility that there will be no more struggling with this journey, no more Sundays to face? And yet, of course, as my own experience dictates, as the dead window-smashed husks of industrial trackside buildings illustrate, the world ends every day. People die, divorces are filed, the loss of communication or contact or care or compassion, every day a tragedy somewhere for someone from which they will never recover on this planet. Their world spinning of its axis, out of orbit, falling into the sun of whatever challenge they will not be able to overcome. Salvations too, perhaps, but there is a permanence to loss that seems to have no corollary in things working out. The simple tautologies of life. Something found can always be lost, but many things lost can never be found.
This is the nature of a world that dies, where things thereon die, where we are all mere guests in the face of something larger than ourselves. We may want to be here when our host’s fate is tied to our own, when mortality can fuse for all living things. But the odds are otherwise, that we will go alone and in small groups, leaving behind – hopefully – more than just a pile of clothes.