© 2017 The New York Times Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
The world, as I know it, is ending. I close my eyes and again experience the wonder of the rain forest, the murmuring streams, the rustling leaves and the myriad sounds of animal life, chirping and singing and buzzing. Flashes of color; birds, butterflies, fish shining in the water. Monkeys feeding overhead. The smell of damp earth and flowers. Each species, no matter how small, playing its part in the rich tapestry of life. I move my mind’s eyes to the wetlands, the mountains, the coral reefs, the golden prairies. The sun glittering on the Arctic ice. The pine trees of the cliffs I climbed as a child. In these few minutes the beauty of the world I once knew is real again.
I open my eyes reluctantly. I am surrounded by land and water that is dead, polluted, plundered. The natural world destroyed. Our cities collapsed. Nature has hit back at we humans, who so greedily stole her riches, with hurricanes, floods, droughts, fires and earthquakes.
But suddenly I realize that though the Earth may seem destroyed, it is alive in my mind. And I am aware of another kind of beauty: that of the indomitable human spirit. The lust for greed and power has destroyed the beauty we inherited, but altruism, compassion and love have not been destroyed. All that is beautiful in humanity has not been destroyed. The beauty of our planet is not dead but lying dormant, like the seeds of a dead tree. We shall have another chance.
Dear fellow cosmic citizens,
If you have the technology to intercept this last testament from our doomed planet, chances are that you are far more advanced than us; you have probably been evolving for much longer and your codebreakers are capable enough to decipher my language.
You will be aware that, like any other life form, we evolved by gradual degrees from simple beginnings, through the nonrandom survival of digitally coded instructions. We called those instructions genes (doubtless yours differ in detail from ours). They survived mostly by building what we called bodies. Our life form was driven by energy from our star (the “sun”) and intercepted by static bodies called plants, using specialized photon collectors called leaves. The energy of plants was then stolen by mobile bodies called animals. Some animals, in turn, consumed other animals, and the energy was passed along in a “food chain.” All used the same genetic code, a linear string of digital characters drawn from an alphabet of four. As you will easily calculate, this was sufficient to encode a huge diversity of forms, which was one of the stupendous glories of our tragic planet.
Among the many millions of kinds of animals, our own, called humans, were distinguished by our large on-board computer (the “brain”) which enabled us to make some progress toward understanding the universe and our origins. We were quite proud of understanding such things as evolution and the fact that matter comes in a finite set of “elements.” While we made a start on what we called quantum theory, we found it bewildering, probably because our brains never evolved to understand the ultrasmall.
We dreamed of a final Theory of Everything and a complete understanding of the origin of all things, including time. Perhaps you already have that. It is among our griefs that we perished before we could reach it.
The way engineers tackle seemingly insoluble problems with ingenuity and grit is something to behold.
Tomorrow is more exciting than today because of engineers. They drive all progress using their brains and hands. With intelligence and persistence, they show human resourcefulness at its best. They are the most genuine form of wealth creator an economy can hope for, and they are incredibly resourceful.
Engineers don’t always follow the rules; they approach challenges from new angles and with a naïve intelligence in order to find the right solution. No challenge is too big.
I therefore find it implausible that the world is coming to an end. Engineers will find a way to avoid this catastrophe!
I was happy to be able to live on this Earth as my mother’s daughter. She taught me how to walk, how to put on clothes, how to speak my name. After I grew a bit older, she taught me that reading books is an important part of living in this world. Through her life itself, my mother taught me how to plant seeds, and that you reap what you sow, as well as how to console people when they are sad.
When I was 22, I started writing novels in my mother tongue, a language filled with the essence of my mother. I wrote about everything that is born in our hearts and in this world, from sorrow and beauty to passion and love. With words, I strived to restore things that had disappeared. I also wrote about my mother, who gave me everything but whom I took for granted at times.
Writing was my way of paying tribute to everything that was once alive on Earth and has since left. If I had raised a daughter, I would have taught her everything that I learned from my mother. I wish I could have.
Entities of the cosmos, greetings from the humans of Earth.
Our world as we know it is coming to an end.
Humans are a biological life form. Our individual existence is characterized by impermanence. We live, and then we die. Our greatest achievement is that we are not entirely overwhelmed by our awareness of this predicament.
We know we will die, yet we experience love and tenderness and wonder and joy. Our mortality forms the basis of our compassion. We know that every human, no matter how different we are from each other, will experience death, and this creates a sense of closeness.
We were not less because we died. We were more. But the desire to live forever was strong in us. We gave birth to machines that we hoped would help us achieve this wish. We hoped to merge with these machines. Now, in our attempt to extinguish our mortality, we are on the verge of extinguishing ourselves.
Farewell. May our example be of benefit to you.
The pursuit of new frontiers in the name of science and empire has almost always come at the expense of others. Early explorers, from the conquistador Cortés to Captain Cook, voyaged across the globe for the sake of expansion and knowledge. However their aim was not to discover more about the world; it was to spread an already-formed worldview. Thus their path was littered with casualties — communities, countries, corpses.
History is told by those with the loudest voices. And the voices of imperialism remain the loudest, even today. The astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission trained in the desert of the Western United States — formerly Native American land — in order to prepare themselves for the Final Frontier. According to an old joke, a native chief asked the astronauts if they could pass on a message to the holy spirits who live on the moon. The man spoke some words in his own language, and when the astronauts asked what the message meant, the chief told them it was a secret between his tribe and the moon spirits. But the astronauts managed to find someone who could translate the words.
The message was: “Don’t believe a single word these people are telling you. They have come to steal your land.”
The ultimate beauty of life on Earth can only be described in the context of personal relationships. Natural, true beauty is enhanced exponentially as a shared experience.
As a chef, I am lucky enough to see this every single night in my restaurant: people from all walks of life, all ethnicities, all ages, all connecting deeply around a table. The human connection is significantly beautiful, and nothing showcases that more than our experiences in 2017.
Through all of the disasters, both natural and manmade, there is one thing that proved to be more powerful than the devastation: that absolute, and most human, intention to look into each other’s eyes — not at each other’s skin color, political views, or religious or sexual preferences — and connect on a completely soulful level. To will someone else to triumph over adversity; to lift someone else up when they are at their lowest point; to connect with each other below the surface … this is us at our most beautiful.