So, evidently the world didn’t end on the 21st. I’m not surprised, because end-of-the-world scares are nothing new. Remember the Y2K bug? I had friends that went to the desert for a week in late 1999 to get away from our soon-to-be-destroyed civilization, although I think that was just an excuse for a good party. These scenarios are not unique to our time either – I’ve heard there were people who believed the world was going to end a thousand years ago, at the end of the first millennium.
There are apocalyptic traditions in religion too, for example the death of the Norse gods in Ragnarok, but the scenario we are most familiar with is the flood. There is the biblical flood (the one with Noah’s Ark), and one of the oldest recorded stories, the Epic of Gilgamesh, has a flood, so some have guessed that both stories relate to the same event or periodic occurrences in the ancient civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates valley, where much our own civilization originated.
Floods are on my mind, not just because of the heavy rain lately, but because of Hurricane Sandy, the major storm of last October that did so much damage to the East Coast. The damage included the New York Aquarium, on Coney Island, which was flooded with storm surge. The aquarium’s systems were damaged, according to the aquarium website, and images of ankle-deep water, illuminated by the soft glow of the tanks, quickly appeared on the internet. They reminded me of dreams that I had as a young man when I worked in the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.
So the world didn’t end in a flood or from an asteroid hitting or the sun exploding, but that doesn’t change the reality we are only here on earth for a short time. What are we supposed to do with the short time we have? What is the spiritual purpose of a human life? I wasn’t put on earth for a particular role, like scientist or artist, but there are people who couldn’t be anything else. These are the people who have found a purpose for their life, earned through hard, devoted work. That work is a kind of spiritual practice, in the sense of meditation, a means to get beyond the self. I get beyond myself, and achieve a sense of purpose to my life, by studying science.
A science museum, a place for musing, can be seen as a temple, which is why the flooding of the New York Aquarium is haunting, and why I support the mission for a public aquarium in Fresno wholeheartedly