The phoenix was a brilliant mythological bird. Legends say that it was as large as an eagle, with scarlet and gold plumage. More beautiful than any other creature, with a cry more melodious than any other sound. Only one phoenix existed at any time. And it was very long-lived, having a life span of no less than five hundred years. But as its end approached, the phoenix fashioned a nest then set it on fire and was consumed by the flames. From the ashes, miraculously rose a new phoenix.
The point I am trying to make:
At some point in time, the human brain evolved enough for it to become aware of its own mortality. This has made a lot of people, if not all, very scared. And thus began the downfall of Man.
Man’s narcissism was unable to fathom a world in which he didn’t exist. Let alone, a world that continued to exist even after said Man stopped existing. So, he created stories and legends about immortal beings. He created Gods, an extension of himself that would never cease to exist. He imagined an afterlife and he believed in what he imagined.
He invented the wheel, the compass, the clock, the Printing Press. He discovered electricity, gravity and E=mc2. He created art, medicine and vaccines. He dabbled in anything and everything that would allow him to become immortal. He either caused wars, massacres and genocides or he became extremely altruistic in order to feel alive. So, he would feel his own existence.
Hitler comes to mind.
Mother Teresa as well.
They both died.
Newton, Tesla, Einstein, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, Stalin, Mussolini, Napoleon Bonaparte, Gandhi… Where are they now?
Just like the phoenix, they ignited the flame that consumed them.
You may say that they continue to live or to exist through their work, in their art or inventions or in how they made people feel or in how they continue to make people feel. You may say that, in their own way, no matter how sick and twisted it may have been, they have succeeded in achieving immortality.
To this I ask: is it enough?
The impulse that directed their lives, was it fear of death? Or fear of dying alone?
I sometimes imagine what the first human being in history must have felt like when they were cursed, or blessed, with the realization that someday they’re going to die. What did they feel? How did they lead their life after that realization? What happened next? Did they try warning other human beings and how did the conversation go?
Of course, back then, language did not exist. Or maybe its appearance coincided with the realization of mortality. Nonetheless, I think the story might have gone like this:
In the beginning of time, Man was living in blissful ignorance. He was spending his time utterly unaware of the concept of time. The only things he did were hunting for food, looking for water, breathing and procreating. Of course, people died and people mourned. But their primitive minds couldn’t comprehend that one day the same thing will happen to them as well.
“Have you noticed that if people don’t die from being eaten by a predator or bitten by a snake or drinking filthy water or suffering a frostbite, they still die after their hair turns gray and lines appear on their skin?” asked the cursed man.
“Hhuh?” The caveman wiped the goat’s blood of his beard with a confused look in his face.
“Never mind.” The cursed man sighed.
He stood up and walked to the riverside. He kneeled to take a sip of water when he saw his reflection on the surface. His hands immediately went up to his head and he started checking his face for wrinkles and his hair for any gray strands. And he watched himself slowly being wasted away, too preoccupied by any sign of death that might appear on him.
And there was no more mention of mortality until the second cursed man realized that he was going to die someday.
“Have you noticed how the shadow moves around that tree when the sun is out? And that after many cycles, leaves start to fall and snow covers the ground and small humans become taller and bigger and some people die?” Asked the cursed man.
“So?” Replied the caveman with a mouthful of a deer’s meat.
“It makes me think that after some time, I will die too.”
“Oh, it’s just an abstract concept I created to help me better understand my existence.”
“Hhuh?” Asked the caveman, confused.
“Never mind.” Sighed the cursed man.
And he sat in front of the tree and observed the shadow circling the trunk and when his time finally came, he had already wasted away.
And there was no more mention of mortality until the blessed man came to the realization that he’s a mortal being.
“Why don’t you put your club down and come with me? I want to show you something.”
“But, we must hunt!” Protested the caveman.
“Yes. But we must live as well.” Replied the blessed man.
“We’re all going to die one day. I am going to die. And you are going to die. So we must use the time we have left to live and create.” The blessed man rubbed two stones and sparks went flying. He made fire.
The caveman’s eyes widened and he pointed at the blessed man shouting, “Sorcerer!” He raised his wooden club and struck the blessed man on his head breaking his skull.
And there was no more mention of mortality. And from that moment on, human beings did everything in their power to repress this knowledge. Little did they know that that knowledge feeds on humans’ fear. It grows stronger every time you repress it and it keeps coming back in uglier ways.
Stop burning yourselves my dears. No one ever rose from the ashes.
Even the phoenix is a myth.