I get curious sometimes about the future. Not like the short-term, Obama’s-coming-for-our-guns-gonna-ruin-the-country future, but 500 or 1,000 years from now, when in all likelihood nothing you and I and the president say or do will have had even the slightest consequence. What the people will be like, what languages they’ll speak, where they’ll live, what disasters they’ll fear in the little teams and nations they’ve aligned themselves. If they’ll still seem to be huddling for warmth as life pours on them the way we are now. Cloying the way we are now.
There are so many who view the progression of history and human civilization not as something not moving forward, but swirling around a drain. It’s only fair to be able to witness the payoff of one theory or another since we spend so much time thinking about it.
Time doesn’t work that way—at least at our present understanding of it. While we can fathom membrane universes and dimensions beyond even our concept of what dimensions can be, we’ve yet to develop a way to peek into the future. Inevitably, if we did, we’d just screw it up.
By the time you read this—and if you read it at all, thanks—it will be 2014. Happy New Year. The consolation I take from not being able to look a millennium ahead is that to people even a century ago, we’re living in the kind of unfathomable future that we’re also unable to decipher for the next hundred years. We’re somebody’s payoff. The Great War broke out in 1914. As Western Civilization collapsed in the crushed skulls and bloodied trenches of Europe, who could’ve known that even worse terrors were still to come? That future was there, lurking like some alternate-dimension horror show. They could no more see it than we can see whatever is waiting for us.
If there’s any difference at all, it’s that we’re less likely now to proclaim everlasting peace. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Today on the internet I watched video of a suicide bombing in a Russian train station that killed 16 people. Boom. You could see the force of the blast blowing out windows for a considerable radius. I watched it four or five times in a row. It happened and then it was over. I felt nothing. Not shock, or grief, or anger, or anything beyond even the vaguest curiosity of what made someone do that. Not even numb.
By contrast, the other night on the radio, I heard the story of an elderly husband and wife who remained passionately in love until the death of the husband from pancreatic cancer, and how the community rallied around the wife after her husband died to show her support and continue to let her know she was loved and appreciated. I couldn’t stop the tears if I’d wanted to.
In this future, this mysterious figure 2014 that someday will read like a Neanderthal past, I’m glad that if there’s one thing to which I’m desensitized it’s the omnipresence of senseless violence, and if there’s one corresponding thing by which I can still be touched, it’s genuine love from one human being to another. Some people think that if everyone realized how horrible killing was it would stop. I don’t believe that, but even if it’s true, I find the thought of being desensitized to love much more horrible than even the most gruesome of realities, since it’s love that’s been carrying us through all the rest. To give that up would make the suffering—past, present, and maybe even future—even more pointless.
All the best to you and yours in 2014 and into the great unknowable beyond.