On March 18th, after a week of quarantine, an earthquake shook my home, hard.
I was in the bathtub when it happened, the water sloshing onto the floor as my crystal chandelier swung like a pendulum. I jumped out of the tub to get my husband, prepared to run out into the streets naked if need be.
The aftershocks were just as unsettling. Dozens of quakes rattled us for weeks as we worked from our dining room table, standing each time the ground slipped beneath our feet, wondering if this would be the time to leave.
During this time the trumpet fell from the mouth of Moroni, the angel perched atop the Mormon temple, and we wondered if we’d reached the end of the world.
The end of days
The viruses are seeping into our cities, the earthquakes are unsettling them. The locusts are swarming Africa and the monkeys are taking over Thailand. The prophets spoke of these times and they called them the end of days.
Those prophecies were written after the destruction of the Jewish Temple, when Romans had razed their city in response to the Jewish rebellion. Shortly thereafter, Mount Vesuvius erupted in a flume of smoke, burying the citizens of Pompeii in ash, and John wrote his most harrowing revelation.
Every generation since has seen their time reflected in the smoke and ash. In the seven-headed beast and the moon that wept as blood-ours no more so than the last. We see the darkest parts of the world and are overcome by them. The world is ending, we think.
This world has no intention of showing us a good time. It does not need us to survive. We cling to the planet as it spins around an unknowable universe and we expect it to treat us kindly as it does so. But that is a strange expectation of so eccentric a place as this. Of a world that is nothing but a beautiful experiment spinning about the cosmos, our lives an exotic, but fleeting moment upon it.
There is struggle, that is guaranteed. Some of us will become sick, some of us will lose our jobs, some of us will lose our businesses. Eventually, all of us will lose our parents and people close to us. And because we have the strange and unusual ability to experience profound emotion, all of us will mourn for some thing or other.
But I do not have a spare moment to devote to mourning, not now. Not unless it is thoroughly deserved. Even then, I do not intend to spend what little hours I have available to me sad or depressed. I did that before, and found it a complete waste of my time.
This is an unusual time. No doubt about that.
After the quarantine, and then the earthquake, the aftershocks continued to rattle us in waves of unsuspecting shocks for weeks. My husband broke his collarbone and had to get surgery. My neighbor had her house broken into and when we gathered around her, sitting six feet apart from one another in the lawn, the police stopped by to break up our unlawful gathering.
But though these things are unusual, they are far from being hardships. It is not a hardship that we are confined to our homes. It is not a hardship that we cannot spend time with our friends. It is not a hardship that we cannot attend the theater, go to a concert, or visit a museum. It is not a hardship that our travel plans have been canceled or that we can no longer go camping on the weekends.
In fact, it is an opportunity to do something else.
As Jenny Odell says in her book How To Do Nothing, it was just such an occasion that led John Muir to become the naturalist we know him to be. Before, he worked in a wagon wheel factory, and it wasn’t until he was temporarily blinded by an accident and forced to spend six weeks in a darkened room that his vision for his life was restored.
Of the accident, William Frederic Badè wrote that it convinced Muir that “life was too brief and uncertain, and time too precious, to waste upon belts and saws; that while he was pottering in a wagons factory, God was making a world; and he determined that, if his eyesight was spared, he would devote the remainder of his life to a study of the process.”
The age to come
My life, like Muir’s, has been stripped down to it’s most fundamental: just a person with nothing but the great expanse of my mind to attend to-and the mind is a most spectacular thing. In the absence of all the things it is supposed to be doing, there can suddenly be found an abundance of things it could be doing-and that is an altogether enticing opportunity.
The Buddha attained enlightenment in solitude. Les Miserables was written in exile. Nelson Mandela fought apartheid behind bars. Henry David Thoreau found spiritual fortitude in a cabin in the woods. Gucci Mane emerged from two years in prison 100 pounds lighter with three rap albums, a number of mix-tapes, and a memoir under his belt.
If we have been waiting for that solitude, that time on the mountain, well now we have it. And we have the opportunity to create from the rubble of our former life, a far more interesting one. One that I believe will send us not toward a dystopian future, but toward a Utopian one. The prophets called that eventuality “life in the age to come.”
In the Jewish and Christian texts, there is the eschatological belief that the current age is flawed or sorrowful, and that it will one day be replaced by a better age or paradise. New Testament authors consistently condemn the tribulations and sorrows of the here and now, and extol the joys and happinesses of life in the age to come.
I feel it: the dawning of a new age. It is electrifying. As though the very tips of my fingers and the very tips of my toes are picking up the slightest hint of a current and it is standing my hair on end. I felt it when the gyms closed and I started practicing yoga at home. When we no longer needed to use our cars so we walked. When grocery stores became emptied and so we started to garden. When the meat was gone so we went to the butcher.
When our friends started coming over at 4PM to set up their camp chairs in our front lawn. When the Sundance Resort opened their Car Cafe and we could eat dinner overlooking a vista. When we decided to go to Montana for a week to quarantine with good friends in the great outdoors. When my husband’s work travel was suspended and, for the first time in our marriage, we were able to spend time with one another every single day.
I’ve been loving this existence. It’s slower. More peaceful. More intentional. It’s the introvert’s dream. My husband and I go for long walks everyday. We make ice cubes out of watermelons and drink them with sparkling water on the porch as we read in the sunshine. We make gourmet meals and have artisanal tea tastings. We watch MasterClass as we stretch out in the evenings.
Creatively, I have never felt so inspired. I’ve made my own sourdough starter. I’ve taken up charcoal drawing. I’ve purchased a long list of books and set about reading them. I’ve submitted my first book to more than a dozen agents (and received my first “pass” already-I must be a real author now). I started writing my second book. I’m working on a rap album.
There’s a future world I can see, in which we grow our own food, and make our own energy, and get our own exercise not by driving to the gym but by an accident of the way we live. And that feels so much more sustainable to me than the way we used to do things. When we wasted carbon into the skies because we wanted to heat our homes, our offices, and our gyms. And then we wasted even more carbon by driving ourselves between them.
How strange that we’ve designed our lives in such a way that there are so many buildings we are required to occupy part-time, instead of having one place where we can reside full-time. And what a waste of resources it is to keep all of those buildings humming, when half of the time there is no one even there to require it.
And what a waste of time it is for us to become so exhausted by all the things we need to be doing (get ready for the day, drive to work, work, drive to the gym, workout, drive home, make dinner) that by the time we get home we have no energy left for the things we could be doing (reading, writing, thinking, creating). And how that has hurt our ability to come up with new ideas and upend the nascent order of things.
And how exhausting that must be for the planet we live on. Who is growing tired of our exhaust and is yawning itself free of our tyranny. As the Earth grows restless and feverish, it trembles and awakes, it erupts in fire and ash and shakes itself free from beneath our feet. And we wonder what could cause it to behave in such a troubling manner.
We do not have enough space for all the people of this earth, nor do we have enough resources-so we say. And yet those of us who occupy the middle class and the wealthy consume the resources of an entire village just to live one day in the excessive existence we’ve created for ourselves. It can’t continue. I do not want it to. I can see clearly now a new way of doing things, and I do not wish to return to the old way.
Can we keep the solitude as we invite friends back into our lives? Can we continue wearing less makeup and fewer articles of clothing when we return to a more public existence? Can we keep buying fewer things-and supporting small businesses when we do-when Amazon’s one-day shipping returns?
Can we keep working from our homes when we have the opportunity not to? Can we keep our cars turned off and the air we breathe clean? Can we keep the time and space we’ve had to nourish our lives, walk outdoors, and linger in the garden?
That to me, is the new prophecy. The kingdom come. In a short time, the Earth has become a much better place to live, and we can play an active part in building it or we can play an active part in destroying it. The Utopia or the dystopia is up to us-the prophecy meant to be fulfilled by our own actions or our own perils.
And this will be looked back upon as the time we were meant to grasp it. To force the change in our lives that will lead toward a more beautiful future.
When the angel is returned to his place, Moroni restored to the Salt Lake City temple with a new trumpet in his hand, will he find an unchanged world? Or will his return herald the start of a new one?
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