For some people, it is simply a culmination of small things, over the years, and it is impossible to pinpoint the one that tipped us over. However we get there, most people, sooner or later, find themselves staring into the abyss. It is a black, bottomless space, without any assurance that there is anything more real than this. You realize that everything you ever had to believe in, everything you counted on as a foundation, was an illusion. You realize that the symbols and trappings of your life are just that: symbols and trappings, nothing more. There is no guarantee that there is a reason, a pattern, a loving creator who will some day tell you why all this was necessary. There are no certainties that “it will all work out OK”, no promises that your loved ones will always be there, not even the comfort of thinking that you, at least, will always try to do the right thing. You are weak, the world is quite possibly a random collection of events, and you know with complete certainty that you are truly and finally alone.
How we deal with this experience has a great deal to do with the people we become. Most will run frantically from the spot, closing their eyes tightly and grabbing on to the first seemingly solid ground they can find. They blot out the memory of the abyss, and replace it’s image with something “evil” from which they turned. Many religious conversions, marriages, and careers are begun this way. Some will refuse to run from the abyss, but are unable to accept it. They remain poised at the brink, unable to turn their eyes, unable to move on knowing what they know. They try to numb the bleak despair they feel, finding some solace in drugs, alcohol, endless hours of television, perhaps meaningless sexual affairs…but ultimately they pay the price with their self-revulsion. Some will stare long and hard into the abyss, and then carry it with them everywhere they go, spreading their perception of cruel meaninglessness out into the world, trying to bring as many into that void with them as they can, justifying their callous action by blaming the abyss, rather then their own cowardice. Many serial killers, corporate monsters, and petty thugs stand in this place. And some will walk carefully and deliberately from that place, trying their best to accept the lessons of the abyss while also accepting that they choose to continue in this world, and that they are therefore responsible for determining a means to do so. These people are unique and diverse in their outcomes, the manifestation of this choice can wear many shapes. They are doctors and parents, artists and scientists, teachers and inventors. You will only know them if, in an unguarded moment, you catch a particular look in their eye. If you ask them what they were thinking about, they will most likely be disinclined to explain.
Unfortunately, as a culture we refuse to discuss the abyss, refuse to even admit it’s existence. We each of us walk into that place completely unprepared for what lies in wait for us there. And as a culture, we suffer for that denial.
As a culture, we are collectively running as hard and as fast as we can from the abyss. Our rampant consumerism, our blind faith in God, in country, in anything but ourselves is a demonstration of our fear. With a frightening percentage of our population already behind bars, we continue to create more laws to hold the darkness at bay. We lap up horror stories, while secretly projecting ourselves into the role of killed or killer. We work ourselves, literally, to death to escape the possibility of one more brush with the unbearable darkness. We use bullying and bluster to avoid looking at how all our attempts, all our denial, are simply not working, not saving us from ourselves.
The abyss is coming for all of us, eventually. There is no way to escape it. The only choice we have is how we choose to proceed.
As individuals, we would be better served by admitting that the abyss is there, by openly facing it’s emptiness and consciously recognizing that our lives, our futures, rest only in our own hands. By admitting to others that we have seen it, and by sharing our thoughts and experiences from that point with the understanding that we each find our own path out. We can find comfort and strength by recognizing that though we walk alone, we are not alone in the landscape. We can prepare our children by letting them see that there is pain and uncertainty in the world, and by demonstrating for them that hope comes not from a blind faith in some future salvation, but in the good and caring efforts of ourselves and others, right here, right now.
As a culture, it is time we stopped running, stopped trying to cover up the seemingly insurmountable problems with glitter and noise. We must look carefully and honestly at the present, and be willing to admit our role in its creation. There is no blame to be assigned; we all contributed, as did all our parents, and all of theirs. We all play a part in what the future will be, for a culture is merely a synthesis of the beliefs and practices of the individuals. We must stop waiting for some great leader to come and save us, because we each of us, in our actions, are leading the way into the future we will all share. Each tiny choice makes a difference.
And this is how the revolution will happen, when it happens, if it happens. Not with sweeping demonstrations and massive protests (though there is nothing wrong with those things), not with violence and forced change. But in almost imperceivable changes within each of us, nearly unnoticeable alterations in our choices, as we each accept full responsibility for our lives and our future. Grain by tiny grain, the sands will shift, and one day we will look down and realize we are standing some place entirely new. The abyss will still be there. But we will no longer be afraid.