The Walking Dead

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The magic is gone.

I’m not sure when I noticed. It didn’t go all at once. It lingered, even as it slowly leached away, until the universe had been sucked dry, a desiccated husk.

I wander a broken world denuded, a disinherited prince. There are no sorrows, no joys. Just a dull flat aching despair, my soul’s pleading cry, a desire to live once again. But the spark is gone now; there is no life within me.

I am the walking dead.

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Age and the Loss of Innocence

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There are those exceptional moments in life when you experience crystal clarity in thought and purpose, when all is as it should be, when all is right and good with the world. But those moments are rare, are few and far between, and they almost always occur when you’re young. As a child, you didn’t have time to formulate your own beliefs; instead, your world view hinged on the beliefs of others. The innocence of youth is a wonderful carefree time in which the mind and the heart are free from the burdens of autonomous thinking and responsibility.

Then a tragic thing happens. You grow up. You question. You doubt. The world view you subscribed to when you were young no longer seems to apply. You wake up to discover you’ve been abandoned in a hostile world that makes no sense, and you’re forced to fend for yourself, to scrap together bits and pieces of the truth as you find them, to piece together some fragmentary understanding of who you are and why you’re here. You toil in the dark without relief, with only the cold and empty void of unconsciousness for an interlude. You’re faced with the prospect of death somewhere on the horizon, yet have no knowledge of when you’ll meet it face-to-face or what will happen when that day finally comes.

This of course is a necessary thing. Without the impetus to search for the truth, you would lay on your back day and night, unmotivated, listless and without purpose. It is this very emptiness, this very despair that compels you to move forward. You venture on. You hope and you pray that the light you seek at the end of the world exists, that the faith you placed in this unnamed truth was not in vain.

And sooner or later, one way or the other, you’ll find out.

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Your Core Beliefs Have Disintegrated. What Do You Do?

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You’d always stood firm in your beliefs. You never had reason to question them, never thought you could be persuaded to the contrary. You were a rock, solid and firm amidst the torrential currents of human affairs. Then the unthinkable happened.

Perhaps it started with a question, humble and unassuming at first, but like a trojan horse it slowly and methodically wrapped around the contours of your mind like choking vines. Perhaps someone raised an objection you hadn’t hitherto considered. Perhaps a traumatic experience shook you to your core, forever altering your perceptions. Gradually or abruptly, you found yourself stranded in a dark and lonely place.

You never thought you would end up there. You’re desperately hopelessly lost, alienated from all you knew and held to be true. You have no map, no compass. There are no street signs. There are no lamps to light your way. All there is is darkness.

What do you do?

First, cling to what you know.

Your soul is a treasure trove of knowledge. You possess a lifetime of experience and education. You know things, perhaps imperfectly, perhaps even erroneously, yet it’s from these basic units of thought that you must begin your journey.

Nobody can make sense of the world without first having acquired a baseline level of experience, some fundamental understanding of the universe and how it works. In cases where your knowledge is true, or at least imperfectly true, you find a compass, some internal sense that pulls you in the proper direction. In cases where your knowledge proves mostly or completely false, you nevertheless find, after due deliberation, a compass that operates in reverse, pointing out directions you should avoid so you can find the proper path.

Cling to what you know for dear life. It will be your anchor, your solitary light in a dark and frightening world.

Second, learn what you don’t know.

While it’s imperative that you start with what you know, doing so is futile without the intention to press forward. The one who is not relatively secure in his beliefs has a uniquely grave obligation to search for what’s true.

Read as much as you can. Study history. Study science. Study art. Study philosophy and religion. Study as much as you can in as many disciplines as possible, for even those endeavors that seem wholly unrelated to the object you seek will prove relevant in some way. Everything is connected to everything else, because humanity and its pursuits are an integral whole.

Talk to people. Discover what they believe. Share what you believe. Discuss. Ask questions. Debate. Maintain an open mind, yet be ready to seize upon wisdom when wisdom is recognized. Many perspectives ensure many handholds as you struggle to find your way, slowly piecing together what you should hold to be true.

The more you learn, the broader your knowledge-base becomes, and the more accurately you can test existing beliefs. Education is a star in the sky whose light grows brighter and fuller with every acquired unit of knowledge, revealing more and more of the terrain before you so you can continue on your quest.

Finally, and most importantly, search for The Truth.

There are many “truths”: customs, fads and beliefs that various societies and individuals at various times have endowed with the dubious charism of “common sense.” The Truth, however, is an objective reality, waiting to be discovered. We were created to search for, to know and to ultimately love The Truth. It is the prize we seek from the genesis of our existence; it is our Purpose and our End.

Some of us in this life will only know The Truth imperfectly. Others of us not at all. But I firmly believe that if you honestly and diligently pursue it, you will be rewarded for your heroic efforts, either in this life or in the life to come.  Chase it relentlessly. Don’t be discouraged, and above all don’t lose hope.

The ambiguities, uncertainties and limitations of your finite life should be of no concern to you. The Truth is your beloved, your prize, the pinnacle and the fulfillment of your existence. Go after it with all your might, and one day, you will not only find the light you thought you’d lost, but an even greater one, a searing fire that will consume your heart so that you will never want again.

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Can I Live More Than Once?

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Life is a garden of experience. There are so many places to see, so many people to meet, so many things to try. Like children, we’re inebriated with life and want to have it all. But our days on Earth are so short, and if you’re like most of us, your available time is further constrained by the dictates of a nine-to-five work day, along with all the other obligations that ensure you’ll only experience an infinitesimal fraction of all the things you so boldly aspired to accomplish when you were young.

In moments of despair, when you’re laying on your back in the middle of the night looking up at the ceiling, wondering if you’ll ever have an opportunity to break free from the shackles of an ordinary life, you might wonder, “What could I achieve if only I could live more than once?”

It’s one of the reasons we’re obsessed with immortality and youth. It’s one of the reasons we cling so desperately to life even in its twilight hour, because the child within, still so naive and optimistic, hopes in spite of its imminent demise to have it all.

What are we to do? Is there any way for us to fulfill such a foolhardy desire, or like death row inmates, are we to cower in our cells, waiting for the executioner to call our number?

Books are the answer.

Of course, nothing beats a first-hand experience. But stories nevertheless come in at a close second, for what are stories but intimate tales of other people’s life experiences? Whether real or imagined, stories allow us to slip in and out of other places and other lives, regardless of our financial, professional or social obligations.

Want to go some place new?

Open a book and transport yourself to anywhere in the world. Visit Europe. Explore the Middle East. Tour the tropical paradises of Southeast Asia. Whatever you desire is always available; the world is at your fingertips, waiting only for you to turn the page.

Is the Earth too ordinary for you? Purchase something of the sci-fi or fantasy variety and do what generations of explorers and astronauts have only dreamed of: explore new worlds. Books are gateways, portals to the vast multiverse of the collective human imagination. Contained within are worlds of every kind. Some are governed by the laws of magic. Others are governed by the laws of real-world science. Some are even a unique combination of the two.

For the cost of a cup of coffee, you can purchase a tourist visa to any number of other worlds, all of them accessible, ready and waiting for you to discover their secrets at your convenience.

Want to live a different life?

Have you ever wanted to pick up a new hobby, but you didn’t have enough time? How about a new profession? Hell, haven’t you ever wanted to know what it’s like to live someone else’s life entirely?

Once more, books provide the solution.

What truly makes stories worth reading is that they afford us intimate encounters with other people. Not only do we meet them, we’re offered access to their minds, their hearts, their souls. We’re granted an almost omniscient point of view, something that we mere mortals couldn’t dare to dream of achieving any other way.

We become the characters. Just as we travel effortlessly from one location to the next, so too do we pass from mind to mind, becoming each and every person we meet along the way. The result is that we live as many lives as we desire.

Even in fiction, the people we encounter are real, for every character was ultimately written by a real person, so that each is always a reflection of something true.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…” ― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Every book is a world encompassing a tapestry of lives and experiences that are not our own, yet can be if only we choose to read about them. As humans, we might not be capable of immortality. But through reading, we can ensure that our brief time on Earth will be rich and pregnant with possibilities.

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