This is the Way the World Ends (In South Carolina)

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper”

I was driving through South Carolina when I learned that the universe was dying. The sun was shining across open expanses of water, turning the spartina into gold. There was an astrophysicist on the radio. They had been watching the stars, watching them die. The fuel that holds stars together, kept them burning, was running out. Energy, energy from the big bang was overcoming gravity. Cold death that is the future. Heraclitus talked of the universe as a fire, with measures of it kindling and measures of it going out. Now, it seems, the kindling has stopped.

The marsh rippled under the setting sun, ribbons of pearl and silk. The profusion of Spanish moss in the oak trees made the whole world run together like a wet painting.

A terrible thought has entered my head. What if the multiverse theory incorrect and we are the only universe? I can’t imagine the horrible nothingness if there is only one universe and it’s dying. As energy overcomes gravity, “there will be no big crunch” to restart the universe. It will keep expanding, growing colder, a fire turning to embers then dead cold ash.

There are shrimp boats in the harbor. The spindles of their masts are dark against the setting sun. The spartina looks like the brindled fur of some strange beast upon whose back we walk. What is it about the upright solidity of pine trees that makes my heart tremble?

The universe will not die in my lifetime. Most like the human race shall not even be a memory when the last stars go out. And yet, I shudder at the idea of so much cold. And yet, I am overcome by this terrifying impermanence. I need to believe that something is definite, something is immortal, but I am nothing if not rational. Some may urge me to turn towards religion, but I cannot overcome my mind.

The tide comes in, the time goes out.

When the universe dies it will be without a fight. In with a bang, out with a whimper. “Don’t go softly into that good night” etc. We will go, peaceful, begging, or bitter, we will have no choice.

“Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice”

I now beg for a fiery demise, though all evidence points to ice. For there is always the story of the bird that dies in fire, only to rise a phoenix. But no, we will not die roaring or burning, but silent and cold. I once believed motion was the key to immortality. Mountains crumble but the sea remains. But now I see that the ever-changing universe too must die.

I have never been this close to a heron before. He must be used to people. His feathers are the gray blue of faded storm clouds, rust creeping up his neck. Every aspect is angular, poised. He is so still, like a painting. I half wonder if he is real. He seems to have grown from the marsh like the spartina. Every aspect of him carries potential for motion; the fluidity of the muscles in his long neck, his stilt-like leg held still in the air. He seems so still, that, despite his poise, I feel as if he must not be able to move. I inhale, and with a fluid movement he sets his foot upon the ground. I exhale, and he flies, his wings unfolding and bursting with silent energy in the light of the setting sun.