By David Horowitz
The End of Time
“When he was alive and I was still young, my father told me his version of the Fall. “We begin to die the day we are born,” he said. What I think my father meant by this was that the cells, which are the invisible elements of our being, are constantly churning in nature’s cycle. Silently, without our being aware of their agony, they are inexorably aging and taking us with them. Year by year, the skin parches, the sinews slacken, and the bones go brittle, until one day the process stops, and we are gone.
“At least that is what I think my father said because that is all that I can remember. And what I can remember is all that is left of the time we spent together long ago, a fading image now like the rest. I can still see the sunlight on the green hedge where we paused on the sidewalk. I can see the mottled Sycamores shading the street, and the way my father turned until the tan dome of his forehead caught the glint of the light when he shared his thought.
“We were taking our Saturday walk through the neighborhood in Sunnyside. In the yards the spring warmth had pushed the yellow daffodils and purple crocuses through the black earth creating little splashes of color. I remember the feeling of pleasure I had, and always did, being alone with him. Or maybe it is the lingering memory that is the pleasure. I can no longer tell.
“When he didn’t go to work, my father took walks every day of his life that I recall. It was only years afterward that it occurred to me that for him the aim of these walks was not to go somewhere, but to get away. As though the life he had been given was less than the one he wanted, or more than one he could bear.
“As my father imparted his reflection, the timbre in his voice gave off no hint of gloom but was detached and clinical as though he were making a scientific observation devoid of human reference. Even now, I cannot guess what his intentions were, or why he decided to share this dark insight with me when I was so innocent of life myself. But he did; and the words have stuck ever since and into the present when age is already on me and has sunk its teeth into my marrow, and feelings of mortality have made themselves as familiar as hello and goodbye.”
This is the way my book begins. It is a meditation about life and death, about how we don’t why we are here and to what end, and how to live a life given those facts. It is also a meditation on what people make of this predicament, and how what they make of it leads to the religious fantasies – by which I mean the pseudo religious fantasies – that shape our troubled age.
As it happens two days before 9/11 I went in for a biopsy to see if I had cancer of the prostate. It turned out I did. On October 10th my prostate was removed. My wife who went through this with me. We had met late and she was younger than I. I had lived many lives. The blessing of this crisis that allowed me to see her see into her heart and to know that I was loved. I was told the cancer had leaked from the prostate sac and I would have to undergo radiation.
My weeks in the cancer ward. The young dead who would not get through even one normal life. My in-laws who were Catholic and Hispanic and who prayed for me. My gratefulness to walk out into the sun again and be with my family. How fragile life is and how we cling to it. And then this in the instructions that Mohammed Atta who led the 9/11 attacks wrote: Love death. How can one love death? What he actually wrote was Prepare for jihad and be lovers of death. Garden of Allah. But the love of death – love of a cause greater than life is what drives the historical narrative. If men did not have causes greater than life itself they would not go to war.
Pascal: Without God, life unbearable.
The cause of Mohammed Atta – redemption through shari’a.
The cause of my father.
Pascal: the stoic view.
Pascal’s insight into human self-hatred
My father who couldn’t accept the life he had been given
When April and I had been together for ten years, she said this: “When you die, I tell myself I’ll be seeing you spiritually some day again. I don’t know how I would live with the thought of you gone, if I didn’t believe that. I don’t know how people who have no belief in God manage. It’s a sad way to carry your heart through life.”
But she knew I did just that. She said, “You need to respect God more. He’s been good to you. When you came out of the operating room you were so handsome and your skin was magical. There was a glow on you. I knew that someone, maybe your Grandma Rose, or your mom was looking out for you.” And then she said, “You have a mission. Most people are like me and don’t. But you have a mission. God is protecting you.”
It is a privilege to be loved. It can almost make you a believer, even if believing is not in you from the beginning. You give, and if you are fortunate what you give comes back, and it comes back in ways you would never have imagined.
* * *
I could not easily dismiss this idea of a grace unseen. I knew I had taken risks others avoided and escaped unharmed. I had been felled by a cancer and was still around to talk about it. But what was the mission that might cause God to look out for me? Why would the God of the Jews take a hand in the affairs of one of His children in any case? The Biblical point was that the Creator gave us free will to determine our fates. Why would He intervene to change mine?
I did have a mission at one time that tragedy overwhelmed and brought to an end. As a result, I no longer shared my father’s dream of an earthly redemption. I had come to see such dreams as a vortex of destruction and had become an adversary of those who kept them alive. It was my way of atoning for what I had done. This was the mission to which April referred.
But while I took pleasure in her romance I could not flatter myself to think a providential eye was looking out for me and shaping my ends. This was the very illusion I had escaped. The personal dream of every revolutionary is to be at the center of creation and the renewal of the world. What I had learned in my life was that we were not at the center of anything, except our own insignificance. There was nothing indispensable about me; or about anyone.
The wars of the social redeemers were as old as Babel and would go on forever. The dreamers would go on building towers to heaven, and just as inexorably they would come crashing to earth. Some would take to heart the lessons of the fall, but most would fail to notice them, or care. Inspired by those who preceded them and innocent of their crimes, an unending cycle of generations would repeat what they had done. The terrible suffering of guilty and innocent alike would continue without end. The prophet Mohammed would beget the disciple Atta; the prophet Marx, my father. Others would follow them, and nothing I could do or say would change it.
The summons I answered was more modest by far than any mission that God might notice. It was to bearwitness to what I had learned. Perhaps hearing my story, another, as innocent as I had been would take heed. For myself, I needed to remember what I had learned through pain, and to honor my debt. My mission was as much for myself as for anyone else. It was about wrestling with the most powerful and pernicious of all human follies, which is the desire to stifle truth in the name of hope.
Here is why you cannot change the world: Because we – all six billion of us — create it. We do so individually and relentlessly and in every generation. We shape it as monarchs in our homes and masters beyond, when we cannot even master ourselves. Every breeder of new generations is a stranger to his mate and a mystery to himself. Every offspring is a self-creator who learns through rebellion and contrition, through injury and error, and frequently not at all. This is the root cause that makes us who and what we are – the good, the bad, the demented, the wise, the benevolent and the brute. We are creatures blind and ignorant, stumbling helplessly through a puff of time.
The future is a work of prejudice and malice inextricably bound with generosity and hope. It is carried out now and forever under the terrible anarchy of freedom that God has imposed on his children and will not take back. This world is created every day by us at odds with each other, and over and over. It is irrevocably broken into billions of fragments, bits of human unhappiness and earthly frustration. And no one can fix it.