The word we use to signify the end of everything is a word that means revelation. The Greek word apokálupsis opens the last book of the New Testament, and had given the scripture its first name according to old titling norms. The dismal prophecies contained therein must eventually have given rise to the English word, and its usage. Yet in and of itself, in its original purity it meant only to see something hitherto unknown with clarity. To have it be unveiled.
Any life aligned to a sense of purpose is a life of varied apocalypses. I hesitated as I typed, wondering if the plural should have been apocalypsi. I couldn’t recall encountering the plural in text, and perhaps that is because the meaning of the word is assumed to be, quite literally, the be-all-and-end-all (this calls to mind some other canonised religious literatures, which are prefaced by “The” rather than the more accurate “A”, as one among hundreds of tellings). Within a single life are many demises, and many rebirthings. This apocalypse we are in now, on a collective scale, is neither the first nor the last one – not for humanity, not for the planet, and not even for many individuals.
In the tarot, the Death card symbolises dramatic change, transformation, a necessary shedding of a chapter or cocoon. Endings and beginnings: the contemplative way is to see these can both be found in the same circumstance, the way a door can both contain and release.
What is true of the afterwards of every apocalypse is that nothing is the same again. In the throes of pandemic, the term “new normal” has been repeated so much that it’s already lost meaning. Perhaps what’s expected to happen is only normalisation, just like abuse and discrimination are normalised. There’s no agency in this, only a shifting of responsibility. That we’ve been let down by the structures that run the world is true, but acquiescence is not only unacceptable, but also a waste of what the poet Mary Oliver called so memorably one’s “one wild and precious life”.
One of the harder spiritual lessons I’ve tried to wrap my head and heart around is how even having confronted peril, and having survived it, some people don’t change. They don’t reckon with themselves, beautify and heal the path they’ve been on, or hold close the gratitude of having survived. This is a choice. Anyone who experiences enough of, or comes out of, this time – rife with a plague, disasters and even locusts, right out myth – has been given a revelation.
In a non-fiction book on faith and art, the author Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Creative scientists and saints expect revelation and do not fear it.” Perhaps this offers a clue about why some utilise the opportunity while others squander it the way windfalls often are. No matter one’s calling, alignment and purpose show us how to survive, and honour that survival. There’s no mandate for what to do after a test of endurance such as this. There’s an adventure here (from the Latin root, adventus – “arrival”). There is a thereafter, and if we’re in it, what will we do?
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on May 28th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.