Occasionally I feel like the entire human condition can be reduced to the habit we have of folding laundry, only to wear it and get it dirty again.
Today I had an outreach training session with T-Bel, and we drove out to Happy Valley Road, which is as lovely as it sounds, to take our portable planetarium into the seventh grade classroom at a K-8 school.
I was reviewing the phases of a star out loud, and there was some really lovely desert mountain landscape drifting by the window, and T-Bel chose that moment to inform me that while, at the moment, our yellow sun was happily converting hydrogen into helium, eventually it would work its way down the table of elements and produce iron, and turn into a brown dwarf, but that at that point it would have grown so large that its outer edge would be where Mars is now.
I had a small panic attack. “Sorry,” I said, clutching at my collarbone like I do when I'm feeling uncomfortable. “That seriously freaks me out.”
“It's okay,” T-Bel said, “at that point we'll have been dead for billions of years, and there won't be any life on this planet anyway.”
I looked out the window and horribly imagined the toxic methane extinction of all of my beautiful desert plants, and the crumbling of the Earth's tectonic plates into flaming iron dust, my own bones having long been fossilized and destroyed, and a complete lack of culture, human or otherwise, to remember and cherish what is probably not even going to be any major contribution to society of mine, realized that it wasn't really my imagination but that it was actually going to happen someday, and that the only thing I could do about it was to go about my life and sit through four hours worth of explaining Greek mythology to seventh-graders while wearing a blue polo and khakis. Then I had a large panic attack. (Like, not only will this be gone, this will be gone, too!)
This isn't an unusual experience for me, by any means. Probably once every couple months or so, particularly when I am very tired and just getting into bed, I start drowning in the realization that I am going to die one day and that my whole life, in the scope of things, will have been completely insignificant. I mean, when the universe is infinite, and space is so large that we can't even see into the next galaxy with any kind of accuracy, the idea that I really need to get my finances in order suddenly seems pretty f*#&ing dumb. Even my big dream of being a writer and managing to create something that reaches out to other people on an emotional level is only a very small comfort against the idea that the sun will one day implode, and no one will be there to notice. Much less read my novel.
Does anyone else ever have panic attacks about this?
Why am I forced to breathe in and out of a paper bag when thinking about this, while T-Bel can somehow make jokes like, “Well, hopefully by then we'll have figured out how to travel to other planets, or else they'll have legalized euthanasia.” Am I a freak? Why is everyone else just happy to do their laundry?
This particular panic attack took a while to subside. Most of the time I can suppress my abject fear of dying in insignificance by making a to-do list incorporating all of the stupid forms I have to take into the payroll office and the clothing items I should donate to Goodwill, but today when I tried to do that all I could think was, “This is so stupid! The sun is going to implode, and here I am trying to inflict order on my universe with a laundry list. THERE IS NO ORDER!! ALL IS CHAOS!!! IT'S NOT FUNNY!!!!”
And I'm laughing at myself now, but this seriously scares me.
So suppression wasn't about to get me through my day, because things like doing my job and washing my car and even having mind-blowing sex on the stove with whosit number bazillion-and-one were not even close to being reasons to keep on living in the face of entropy and Neptune's liquid nitrogen lakes boiling away next to a toxic supernova that used to be our lovely sun.
But then I thought, "Well, what else is there to do?"
This is what my life is. I am small, and relatively powerless, and human, and I get paid to tell seventh-graders about the exploits of Zeus and his mortal lovers, and I do my laundry so that I can have clean clothes the next day, and that is what I am supposed to do. I remembered a quote from one of my favorite children's books*: “Making food, eating food, clearing the things away afterward—this is what life is about.” And it is. You eat your grandmother's chicken soup, and you fall in love with all the wrong people, and you sometimes spill your seed trays all over the front seat of your car, and you travel to all the places you always wanted to go, and when they die you bury your pets with little brick headstones in some semblance of trying to make something permanent to say, “Hey, I was here, and so was Harry, and he used to fall asleep on my sternum,” and, by God, you fold your laundry just so you can get it dirty again the next day. If I could somehow force the sun to keep burning, I would, but I can't. So I fold my laundry.
I think I'm okay with that.
*Wise Child, by Monica Furlong. Epic!