Are we a vapor trail?

Writers spend a lot of time considering the nature of things. It’s the reason Madeline L’Engle loves the word ontology. The study of being. Musicians also spend a lot of time considering ontology.

On my iPod this morning, the haunting lyrics of Dirt Poor Robins' song Human After All formed the backdrop of my thinking...

A vapor trail. A plane gone by.

A bridge of smoke that fades before our eyes.

We'd cross the rope, but our balance is a joke.

We're human after all. Still there's no excuse to fall.


We were the cause, we are at fault.

We cannot draw from empty vaults.

With vacant hands, we're left to ponder.

If only then we had been told infatuations would grow cold

We might have more than ash to squander.

I'll always wonder.

Are we a vapor trail?

As much as we are the center of our own universe--what Donald Miller frames as the leading role because we are in all the scenes--on some level we know that isn’t actually true. We are one of billions.

King David writes in the Psalms "The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. "

So the question hangs. Are we just a “vapor trail’?

The evidence is there to suggest that is all we are. After all, eighty years isn't much compared with all of history—and only a small percentage of people will ever have their deeds recorded in a way that lives on. Live past twenty and you will likely find that at least one thing you were most invested in turned out to be nothing more than smoke.  Aging and death are painful realities. We seem to live with much angst and focus, then slip away...missed for a time, then mostly forgotten.

And somewhere in the feelings that last paragraph inspires lies the answer.

Something in us longs to be eternal. We can't even contemplate the possibility that we are not. Embracing an end--the idea that we are only grass--is too depressing by far. Oh we may ‘chin up’ about it because we want to be grounded in what we assume is ‘reality’, but our souls can't thrive in a framework of believing that our lives don't really matter.

We want forever. Our stories celebrate it. Our songs imply it. Heathcliff and Katherine (or Edward and Bella) are plausible because we desperately want to believe that love is forever. Affairs and breakups are devastating because they violate the thing we want to most believe.

Almost all of the world’s religions have some version of forever. This core wiring…our human ontology…longs for transcendence.

This week our family dog, Casey, had another series of four grand mal seizures in 24 hours. Our vet assures us that this isn’t as scary for Casey as it is for us because when the seizure is over, he doesn’t contemplate what it all means. He doesn’t worry about forever.

Yet as his human owners, we do. (And we wish with all our hearts that Casey could live forever).

What if this desire for forever is in all of us because it is based in truth? What if we are actually more than just a vapor trail?

I suppose the real challenge is in exploring what that means in a way that we can live out in a daily basis. If we really believed that each and every person was forever, how would we change? Who would we become?

Death, as we know, is a certainty. What if forever is a certainty too?

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall