By Yamin Kogoya
My journey here is a complete mystery. Did I get to decide if I wanted to come here? No. I cannot recall anything. The only thing I am aware of is that I am here – witnessing everything that is going on, at visible and invisible levels, eating, drinking, procreating, fighting, and dying. I didn’t choose to come here, and I have no say in whether I stay or leave this planet. This journey is arbitrary in the sense that I was thrown into this drama without my consent. What I know for certain is that I owe my existence to my parents, who brought me into this world. In the Lani mystical language, they are called Yikwanak and Yikwagwe. Insurmountable pains were endured by both my parents and a few individuals who raised me. My mother especially endured a great deal. Without them, I would not be here today. Strangely enough, my life was threatened immediately upon my arrival here on earth and continues to be threatened to this day. While I write this piece, I am primarily thinking about the constant struggle of living and dying in a savage world populated by humans.
Many believe God is behind all the tragedies and dramas in the world; others attribute these events to spirits entities; others say we are the result of a bacterium’s mutation over billions of years. Some claim we are an experimental species that has been dropped here by extraterrestrials who have either forgotten us or are using us for unknown purposes. Perhaps we have always existed, just as the fish, clouds, trees, ants, stars, and all other forms of life have. These are just a few of the most widely held theories I’ve heard during my time on earth. Many of them seem farfetched; none of them address the root causes of human suffering; and all of them contradict one another. They might have elaborate theories about the root causes, but no real solutions emerge. On the contrary, their theories exacerbate confusion and pain. Humanity’s soul still bleeds, and all organisms on this planet continue to tear each other apart for survival. In contemplating these issues, I sense a tiny voice inside telling me that something isn’t right, so my search for that voice continues.
I initially thought my parents, professors, pastors, and others around me would know the answer, but now I realize they don’t. It seems as if they are as blind as I am, naming and describing this God or any other infallible entity… But their explanations fail to make sense, and everything I observe still seems to mourn. In my observation, those who believe in or place their faith in these infallible entities are generally more optimistic than those who don’t. Despite their apparent optimism, these believers still suffer greatly, or they, themselves, become perpetrators of these endless sufferings, and all life on Earth would be rife with cruelty, injustice, and despair.
As a species, I sense that humanity is already in the dark, not knowing anything for sure and walking through a thick, dense forest, yelling at one another. We listen but do not hear; we look but do not see; we touch but do not feel; we speak but do not speak the truth; and we alive but we do not live. We are but a dead corpse inside a living body, pretending that all is well when it is not – crime, murder, assault, rape, suicide, abuse, torture, violence… all continue behind a thick curtain. We are afraid to lift a centimeter of that curtain lest we behold the monster; yet we are unaware that we are the monsters behind the curtain. The Lani elders say, ” Nit Aap yi kugi aret”, which means ‘we humans are the monsters.’
We are not brave enough to say exactly what goes on here, right now. Instead, we tend to retreat back into our little havens of religion and culture for safety. We are afraid, which is why we continue to invent flags, ideologies, and religions to wage war against one another at superficial levels. We continue to inflict suffering on one another for meaningless things like whose culture and beliefs are better or who is more superior. The list goes on. How indifferent.
Animals do not engage in violence of this kind. They do not kill and destroy each other for an idea, a belief, a pleasure, or a symbol. But we humans do, and that is a great tragedy. Mankind becomes a victim of life, or life becomes a victim of mankind; it’s hard to tell which is which. We think humanity’s wars are over. No – humanity cannot pull itself together and put aside trivial differences. The great war is coming. The great reset is coming. Be prepared.
As a species, we are well-armed and dangerously so. Why? It’s what we do for a living. As absurd as it may seem, we are always preparing for a war against ourselves. Tragically, why we kill one another is still a mystery – not the superficial reasons; not the slaughter over lands, ideals, and differences, but the real reason… the explanation of the nature of humanity and its never-ending thirst for destruction and division. We cut down billions of trees that we turn into paper – paper we use to write essays and dissertations in order to explain why we tear each other apart. But no answer has yet been found amongst the gallons of ink we spill.
Language seems to perpetuate these endless tragedies because the written word tears apart reality like a sword. Someone’s reality is being shattered by the lexicon and semantic power of another. As it has been said in the animal kingdom, the rule is kill or be killed, and in the human realm, the rule is define or be defined. “Fate hangs in those four letters (BE and ED) in the English language.” It is for this reason that language becomes the first point of attack in a colonial domination strategy.
There are times when I wonder if we create our flawed reality, or whether reality was flawed before we were conceived, or if we co-create it. According to ancient Greek tragedians, human fate, our decisions in existential drama, and the guidance of the gods are all intertwined in the making of our tragedies. We live in a world of knowing and not knowing simultaneously. We know we shouldn’t do something, but we still do it, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and we all suffer the consequences.
A tragic ancient hero such as Oedipus, the king of Thebes, whose events and prophecies all came together at the end, is a perfect example of how fate and actions are intimately entwined. Despite knowing there would be a tragic outcome if he continued on his fateful path and yet he didn’t or couldn’t stop destiny from playing out before him.
A tragedy often strikes at seemingly innocuous times when everyone is distracted or calm – the snake is always lurking somewhere in the garden of happiness. Although things may appear calm and normal on the surface, underneath or behind these images there may be the threat of war lurking. It is impossible to foretell what is going on behind the scenes unless we receive a special revelation about our fate.
Despite seemingly making all the right choices, an innocent human’s life can still turn upside-down in a matter of moments. There is always the risk of natural disasters to tear down our homes and havens; our societies, families, and systems can be so cruel, even to those who ‘belong’. We can also be so destructive to ourselves for all sorts of reasons, and life itself is so cruel and unfair. It just happens that your fellow creatures face the same tragedies. In the end, no matter who suffers first, we all suffer – we just differ in the way we suffer. People suffer for many different reasons, some of which are incomprehensible. Having been thrown into this universe, we must not just learn how to live, but also how to deal with so many tragedies. The question, “why me?” still gnaws at us. This seems to be what breaks people’s hearts – the torture of the unknown.
There’s a story about a Jewish man who lived thousands of years ago in the Christian Bible. His name was Job. Job was described in this story as a wealthy, upright man who had a family and a fortune. However, Satan argued that Job was faithful to God only because he had everything he wanted, so if everything were taken away from him, he would turn away from God. So, God agreed to test this claim. Satan then cursed Job with deadly skin diseases, taking everything that he loved and owned. As a result, Job was in a dire state. The friends of Job visited him one day and sincerely sympathized with him. They discussed, in depth, the tragedy of existence, and tried to explain why Job’s health is so poor. Job’s friends spoke and concluded that it was all his fault, but their answers did not satisfy him. With this complaint, Job turned to God for an answer to the question, why me? At the end of the story, God demonstrated the structure of existence beyond Job’s own suffering by helping him realize that God is in control in both good and bad times. God acknowledged Job’s suffering, but He wanted him to see that it is connected with broader existential phenomena taking place at the cosmic level that were beyond Job’s comprehension. Job and his friends weren’t aware that God and Satan were placing a wager in the cosmic courtroom to find out whether Satan’s allegation against Job was true or not. It might seem that Job had no right to ask why, but his response to suffering appears to have been crucial to the outcome of a war waged behind the scenes at the cosmic level. Ultimately, Job surrendered to God and accepted His sovereignty as the undisputed ruler. Job won the race, God won the bet, and Satan lost both. After Job won the race, God doubled his losses and rewarded him with healing. Regardless of where you are in life, whether in a blissful state or in the depths of a dark pit, you may be disconnected from the Source that sustains both.
What if Job cursed everything, including God? Everything, and everyone, and then committed suicide to avoid the agony? This is a question I leave to you.
Birth-life-death will be a continued struggle until something drastic changes at the cosmic level. However, it is unclear what that “something” is. For Job, it was the sovereign God. Job’s story is exceptionally strange in that, despite being in a dark place, Job played a crucial role in deciding the outcome of a cosmic verdict between two forces in the cosmic justice system. The fate of the cosmos appears to be inextricably bound with Job’s fate, and his response to his condition was vital, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Human actions on this planet at the outset seem to revolve primarily around procreation, survival, and death. Despite this, there is a larger story unfolding behind the scenes, and we are part of it whether we like it or not. Therefore, our choices do matter, regardless of how trivial, insignificant, and mundane they appear to be in the course of our daily lives.
Job’s story offers hope to believers of the Christian faith, but many people from other faiths and cultures may not see it in the same way. As the topics of suffering, God and Satan are understood and perceived differently, and these differences are often the source of human conflict and tragedy. It is not uncommon for some people to not only blame God for everything that goes wrong in their lives, but also deny that either God or Satan exist. The metaphysical aspects of reality have been removed from many people’s worldviews over the past 500 years, when the European tribes launched the modern world as we know it. Science and rationality, they claimed, would eliminate human misery, or provide an answer to it. Certainly, our technological achievements and material wealth have made our lives easier and more convenient, but we are sick and deteriorating from within. As this uncertainty spreads in the hearts of human beings, fear ensues, and fear will unavoidably lead to fatal tragedies between human cultural and religious groups. There is no indication that humans will accept one another’s differences. Some humans purposefully inflict suffering on other innocents in order to have virgins in another realm, while others contend with the law of Karma and disagreement about God, Satan, history, and destiny of creation. Language and the descriptions we give about these infallible ideas play key roles in creating the human tragedy.
Hundreds and thousands of philosophers, sages, gurus, and thinkers that have come before us have all attempted to answer these questions – why and why not? Why exist as it does, instead of not existing as it does? Why is there something rather than nothing? Western philosophical inquiries are full of such frustrated questions. As of today, we still lack any real answers, and even what constitutes “real” is the central theme contested in all philosophical inquiry.
The existential knots we are entangled in will probably require an outside liberator to free us, since any liberation ideas brought by humans will almost certainly end in tragedy.
As I watch this cosmic novel of human drama, I wonder if there is an error in the script. The number of tragedies on this planet could well be seven billion, eight hundred and seventy-five thousand. As I write this, this is the number of people being counted in the Google system. It’s not clear how they came to that conclusion, but that’s what they said.
I could complain endlessly about existence and how unfair it is. But in the end, I ask myself, who am I to complain about the nature of existence and the unfairness of life? Since I was not given the choice to come here, and I will also not have the choice to stay or leave, I don’t think I am entitled to complain about how unfair things are. The best I can do is try to make sense of all the information I have gathered over the course of my time on this planet and see if I can connect some dots before my departure. One such piece of the puzzle I have come across is that the majestic displays of cosmic power in nature often leave me speechless, as it shows that my very existence really does rest at the mercy of something or someone greater than my stint on his planet. My best guess so far is that this proposition is true. As far as I can tell, Job came to that conclusion too.
As I write this,the sound of dripping water on a silent night is a harbinger of my time on this planet drawing to a close. There is no way out. I’m waiting for existential execution. Lani elders say, “Aap n’ndarak ti, kambirak n’nduk aret ndak’nogo menggarak”, meaning ‘we are born to die.’ This is a dramatic statement; it omits any explanation as to why that is the case. To say that we are born to die is equivalent to saying that livestock exist in order to be consumed by humans. All these propositions say nothing; they simply describe the phenomenon we already know. What we need to know is why. People say the two most important days of your life are: “the day you are born, and the day you find out why you were born.” Knowing the ‘why’ gives us the strength to handle the wretchedness of existence. “If you know the why, you can live any how,” said one tormented soul of humankind, Friedrich Nietzsche, during his inquest into the nature of human madness and tragedy. For Job, his big ‘why’ was God. As for Nietzsche, I don’t know the conclusion he came to at the end of his tragic journey.
As for me, although Job’s response makes sense, I will leave the answer to the question of why to the next generations, for I will be remembered as the bundle of memories by anyone who knew me, loved me, or despised me. These memories may be passed on to future generations, as Job’s and Nietzsche’s stories have. Otherwise, I will be forgotten, just as the billions that came before me and the billions that will follow me as if I never existed. In my view, however, stories like Job’s deserved to be passed on to our children, since it illustrates the worst tragedies that can befall humanity and how we respond to them. Whether you believe in such a cosmic bet between two forces (God and Satan) take place or not, that is not the point here; the real point is how do we respond when we have everything we desire, and when everything we have is stripped away from us?
So, I embrace my life as if it were my last, as I awake every morning into the doorway of the living and the dead, consumed by the excruciating uncertainty of choices and decisions triggered by confusion, disappointment, regret, expectation, and dreams.