“And here, O Arseny, what is important is that the end of the world for each individual person will come within a few decades after birth – each gets however much time is allotted. (Ambrogio leaned toward the horses’ neck and exhaled into his mane.) The overall end of the world worries me, as you know, but I do not dread it. Meaning I dread it no more than my own death.”
– Ambrogio, from Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
I recently finished this fantastic work by Vodolazkin. This book is a gritty tale of pain, suffering, and the power of love and faith. The main character, Arseny, goes on a journey of redemption through self-sacrifice for the betterment of the world.
The narrative is gripping. The characters are interesting, displaying the whole range of the human experience. The world you enter is vastly different from our modern world, which, I think, gives us better perspective on our world. Yet, despite the vastly different world of the characters, the themes developed are all to familiar to our own experience. One such theme is “the end of the world.”
Like the pre-modern people of 15th century Russia, we contemporary individuals are still enthralled with discussions of the end of the world, doomsday, apocalypse, or other world-wide catastrophes. Turn on cable and you’ll find gripping reality shows about those preparing for worst-case scenarios. Or, flip to science channels and hear them discuss the asteroids on collision courses with Earth that will fundamentally alter the landscape of our cosmic crash-pad. Religious voices will chime in here too explaining the final World War that will decimate all life lies just over the precipice we are careening towards. All these “inevitable realities” create opportunities for savvy investors to make a nice profit and situations for the easily influenced to live a life of anxiety. Which of us hasn’t thought about these kind of things, especially when Hollywood makes bank off these (often cheesy) films about our demise?
What’s so interesting about these fears is our ability to forget one crucial thing: we are dying.
All of us are dying.
All of us.
I don’t mean to be morbid. Just real. My impression of us westerners that we all too easily forget how fragile life really is. Take a look around the world and see people dying from hunger or thirst. Maybe death comes from curable illnesses. We treat death like a disease to be eradicated. Yet, one out of one die.
Vodolazkin’s character Ambrogio gives the answer to mankind’s perpetual dilemma. He nails it when he says, “what is important is that the end of the world for each individual person will come within a few decades after birth – each gets however much time is allotted.” The doomsday we fear is coming. It is matter of empirical fact. We are mortal. Things like paper and twigs and cause me to bleed. Things invisible to the naked eye can kill me. Death is real and it is inevitable. Embracing it, though, is freedom.
Worry, angst, and stress can be avoided by no longer fretting over things far beyond our controlling reach. We, after all, cannot prevent the “end of the world”, whether that be on a cosmic or personal scale. It’s ludicrous to think so. And, if we spend our time worrying about what “might” (or “will”) happen, we will lose the ability to live in the present, the only time we actually have. This is vital to a life well lived.
Let me use my dad as an example. I was too young to remember what my dad believed about certain things, but I do know his personality was that of a worrier. I remember Y2K being talked about, and seem to think he looked into various types of preparation (admittedly, could be my imagination now). I do remember him working way, way too much. I remember him not being around as much as I’d wished. I remember him often going to work on days he didn’t need to. I can assume it was because of approaching deadlines, or even simply the desire to care well for his family. The point I’m trying to make, though, is this. My dad died March, 1999. And, since his death, I have thought more about his personal legacy left to me (wondering why he worked, wishing we had quality time together, etc) far more than what he worried about. I wonder how different I’d be if during the time he lived, he was really present.
Our Lord spoke of freedom, too. He called his people not to worry, but to live contented, faithful present lives. Jesus said, “You are worried about many things. One thing is needed.” (Lk 10) In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he spoke at length concerning worry and dread. He said,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mt. 6:25-34)
Today has enough trouble of its’ own. Don’t add more to it by worrying about what might be. Embrace what is as from the loving hand of God. In other words, follow Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6)