Note: Dredged up from the archives. Originally written May 29, 2009.
On a recent trip out to Nevada I was standing on the shoulder of a remote desert highway at two o’clock in the morning, along a rutted edge of sun-crozzled pavement that ran through a black silence of sagebrush and Joshua trees. Nothing moving and nothing lit, not even a rind of the moon.
A collection of nothings, in fact: no cars; no planes; no radios. No phone service. No insects or birds or rustling fauna. Not even a gentle breath of wind.
Imagine being deaf, or dumb, or blind; or no longer being able to taste, or to have memories, or to love. Imagine the death of a close friend, or imagine there no longer being stars in the sky or galaxies beyond our own, seas beyond the horizon, ships to traverse them. Imagine the inexistence of music and then the inexistence of film. Whither a light switch? Conceive of waking up one day and finding out no one had given you a name, or an arm, or a family.
Votaries of emptiness all, and to our minds, each a kind of dark matter, a negative presence; the sudden cessation of a motion, the final and comprehensive absence of a sustaining otherness.
John Updike said being human cannot be borne alone. We need other presences. This is why we blare TVs and go to the symphony and sit on our porches staring out at the road at the traffic trudging by. Hence Facebook and real books and Wal-Mart and Amtrak tickets. The twelve-pack, the four-door, the queen-sized bed. The rituals of Christmas and the birthday alike. Fortune cookies and this blog and t-shirts with words on them. Walt Whitman and Paris Hilton and the Rolling Stones. The Hague, the Statue of Liberty, and the street where I live—all these things are bound to us.
So do yourself a favor and go set yourself down in the middle of a desert in the predawn dark, all the vibrations of culture and knowing fucking motionless on this bald causeway of the earth as the deathbed of philosophy and ideology and politics lay sprawling cold beneath you.
Someday we die. That’s it. Beyond that, nothing.
But knowing that and feeling that and then waking up the next morning is still, now as it ever was, some good hell of a thing.