To Those in the Present (Which is to Say My Past) Who Have Not Yet Surrendered Themselves to the Future: A Revelation

By Jessy Wallach, TIWP Student

I am one of the few in my generation. The Last Generation, we are called, a play on the Lost Generation, but a truth in its own right. There will be others after us, here and there, rarities, but we are the final group concise enough to be labeled a generation. 

Many older than us view us with pity. 

“If only you were born sooner. The good times came and went, and you missed them.” They shake their gray heads sorrowfully. “You arrived at the end, after the show had finished. Just in time to see the actors take their final bow before they leave the stage.”

See, the Apocalypse has come and gone. It was everything you’d expect. Famine, war, pestilence, and human greed. Mostly human greed. What got us in the end was not an inability to go on—We are, after all, a remarkably intelligent, albeit destructive, species. No, it was a simple matter of willpower. There was only so far we could bend before we broke. Our hearts and brains were defeated, and so they begged us to stop. And we did. We stopped reproducing, stopped expanding. We embraced our eventual decline and entered a period of waiting. Waiting for the doors in the back of the theater to open, so that we might spill out to whatever waits beyond, blinking our eyes as we adjust from the darkness of the room, murmuring amongst ourselves about the show. 

I do not mind only experiencing the wait. What is there to miss about the world before it teetered over the edge of decline? Poverty? Violence? Misinformation and hunger and neglect? Things are quieter, where I’m writing from. People live small, long lives close together. They let laughter slowly erode smile lines into their cheeks and allow their faces to be spotted and darkened by the sun. Nature working it’s way on us, instead of the reverse to which you are accustomed. Most non-lifesaving technologies have been abandoned. So are cars and crowds, and the rush to go anywhere, nowhere, around and around and around, hurrying past ourselves in meaningless circles. Instead, we slow down and watch the land you destroyed gradually knit itself back together. 

This week, I was sitting in the yard with Jean, the woman who raised me, watching the swallows and jays and chickadees gather around the feeders along the edge of the forest, when she raised a thin, bony finger to the sky. 

“Look,” she said. “A Great Eagle. Decades ago, I was taught in school that those would all be extinct by the time I was your age. This is the first I’ve seen in years.”

How can I long to live in a different time when my own is so gently beautiful? Yes, we are dying out, but so what? Life is best appreciated with an aftertaste of nostalgia. Love was, after all, created to wed itself to loss. Most days, they are two sides of the same coin.

You, whomever it is that is reading this, may not live to see humanity make this choice. There are many generations between you and I. Even though many—and, eventually, most—have chosen not to bring more of us into the world, it is a difficult decision to carry out. A species as wondrous and terrible as our own cannot go extinct in a mere lifetime. 

That word probably alarms you. Extinct. Extinction. How vast a word, how final, and yet, oddly, we are numb to it. It bombards us all the time. Dodos, grizzly Bears, and macaws. Laughing owls and rhinoceros. Passenger pigeons, Tasmanian tigers, countless species of birds and fish. Yet when applied to us, next to words like ‘approaching’ and ‘voluntary’, it resonates differently. It wasn’t meant to go this far, was it? Extinct, from the Latin, extinctus. The first definition of extinction is ‘no longer existing,’ but the second is ‘out of use.’ We have ceased to be relevant. We broke the circle of life that said the only way to survive is to provide for those beyond our species. But no, you say. Humans are different. We have complex societies, we’ve built skyscrapers and written operas and invented stores where you could buy endless choices of fresh foods from around the world. We discovered atoms and put first one man, then many, on the moon. People mention music and art and literature and the great things we have done —it’s funny how they don’t mention the bad things we’ve done. I don’t think the whales will miss our songs.

Soon, there will come a time when the Last Generation is all that is left. I do not envision the final days the same way as you do. No asteroids, or vengeful extraterrestrials. No nuclear missiles or sudden tsunamis, or Ice Ages. It will not be the sixth mass extinction, for it will only be us, one species out of almost nine million, who disappears. In this vision, I will be in my small, creaking house, and I will go outside and sit in my back deck, in the non-biodegradable lawn chair that is a relic from a different time. The breeze will blow cool against my face and chill me to my bones with a reminder that yes, I am alive and present in this moment, in the way that only the frigid early morning air can. I will exhale frosty clouds that make visible the small miracle of my breath. And I will drink my tea in solitude as the first birds of the day begin to stir in their nests, and delicate quails skitter past my feet, a gray-plumed mother leading her downy brown young.

Of course, in these hours especially, my thoughts will turn to many people who are out of my reach. They may even turn to you, though we have never met. Humans are pack animals. We were not designed to live in isolation. But I will turn my loneliness into a celebration, the way I was taught by those before me, those who chose to bring our species to its end. I will follow this ritual for as long as I am able, reveling in its beauty and heartbreak. There I will sit, shivering and icy-numb to my bones, but not willing to go inside to grab another coat and chance missing the sunrise. The sky will fade from a bruised aubergine to pink and then, finally, a pale, eggshell blue that promises a day of good weather. The groundhog will poke her head out of her burrow, and out of sight the red-winged blackbird will trill. Beyond my yard, on the very edge of my vision, the fog will begin to lift off the distant mountain. 

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