To die is to face an unknown reality—a mysterious relocation of unfleshly self to a place, or time, or alternate existence that we cannot know but can only speculate. The prospect of pain or of simple cessation of being means that, naturally, we fear this fate. Death is quite possibly the most feared of all worldly concepts, yet some find more comfort in the mysteries of death than in the harsh truths of life. They hasten this spiritual shift in hopes that something better lies beyond those final heartbeats.
Suicide, at the organismal level, is a travesty, but what about at the cellular level? In our own human genesis—in embryological development—there are cells destined to die, preprogrammed to undergo intentional death called apoptosis. This death serves a purpose.
As an embryo, we grow with webbed hands. Fingers do not form until the cells between them commit suicide. At other times, apoptosis is induced by a foreign enemy in an attempt to hinder its proliferation. A virus, for instance, infiltrates the body and takes captive the cellular machinery needed to thrive. It changes important processes so that good products become bad products, and viral survival overcomes our body’s ability to survive. If an infected cell kills itself, the means of viral reproduction are lost . . . but so is a piece of the body. In essence, the virus kills its host from the inside out, bit-by-bit.
All this talk of death assumes that life, first, exists, but what if something we see as non-living were to die, so-to-speak? Imagine if the Earth, itself, had a heartbeat, and that heartbeat suddenly ceased to pulse. Its cells—people, plants, animals—would die with it. You would die with it. But a defibrillation from an unknown operator kicks the flatline back to peaking, and somehow, you revive along with it, stiff-necked and hazy-eyed. Things are different after death, though. Grass is red, not green. Animals are strange and unfamiliar. Humans are sparse, and all are equally perplexed and wholly uncertain of what has passed. What would you do?
Some, today, think that our world is on a path toward death. The above scenario is simply imagined, but it cannot be ruled an impossibility. It can only be added to the endless list of potential futures this life may present. Is the Earth but an extraneous cell upon the webbed hand of the universe, destined for oblivion? Is it a victim of a viral infection that we have yet to detect? Is humanity that virus, or are we merely the cellular machinery that the virus is manipulating? Are we puppets on invisible strings, bringing changes that progress us further down the path of self-destruction?
If all this is so, then what is the virus that has commandeered mankind? The answer is derived from common knowledge. A virus spreads, so we must only look to where it could have come. For the common cold, it is a sneezing neighbor in a crowded bus or a tainted dumbbell in a busy gym. For Earth, we look to the night sky, where the billions of universal cells sparkle, and glint, and beckon our thoughts. It is from beyond that our infection has spread. It is from alien origins that we may find our demise.