Seated on a park bench in Dorchester Square, I’m observing everything around me. The trees, fully dressed and swaying in the wind to a tune we cannot hear, cast tapering shadows across the thick green grass. Squirrels scurry across the park, chasing each other’s tails and searching for nuts ahead of the impending fall. Business men in suits meander past, smoking and laughing while talking about sports and the economy. I’m watching all of this, soaking it in like the midsummer sun at high noon, and I have a sudden, violent collision with the concept of time.
This city block is a time paradox, I think to myself.
The bench I’m sitting in faces the Sun Life Building, an imposing marble business centre that looms over the park like a hundred-year-old school teacher. Beyond that is a cathedral, possibly as old as the city itself, that sleeps modestly nestled between two shopping malls. Then- directly across the street- is the 1000 building, the tallest skyscraper in the city. An overbearing testament to our present, overshadowing the worn-out relic from our past.
As I look around, casting my eye over the fast food restaurants and strip clubs that are sprinkled magnanimously and haphazardly throughout the city, I come to grips with the fact that we are not a permanent fixture in this world. We build churches and monuments to give ourselves some semblance of validation for our existence, but all we’ve really done on this Earth is stack some rocks together in hopes of pleasing some external forces. The law of entropy states that everything in the universe is bound to dissolve, and that our sticks and stones will eventually fall apart and all we will be left with is the memory of our ephemeral sense of purpose.
I try to picture it: the city falling apart, the Earth reclaiming the land that we had borrowed. I pictured the crumbling marble of the Sun Life Building, its Corinthian columns collapsing under the weight of the building. I imagined the steel and glass of the 1000 building raining down across the city, falling like a felled log into the Saint Lawrence River. And then I saw the old cathedral, covered in moss and ivy but still standing amidst the wreckage. For some reason, I didn’t see it ever coming down.
Maybe because our ancestors thought too much of the afterlife. They were much too concerned with pleasing their god that they spent their whole lives trying to please him, in hopes of receiving their recompense once they’d passed away. Pascal’s wager was a poor judgement call, in my opinion, but that’s easy for me to say. I was never indoctrinated, made to fear the possibility of an eternity of damnation. My parents granted me the freedom to look up at the night sky- to attempt to count the trillions of stars in our galaxy- and decide for myself that this universe could not have been designed like this. It is too enormous- too beautiful- to have been created by anything, regardless of how omnipotent and omniscient it claims to be.
I think that buildings should fall down; not while they’re still in use mind you, but once we are long gone and the world has forgotten about us. I think that our mortality is a blessing, not a curse. It is easy to feel entitled to eternity when you believe that the creator of the universe also designed you, and that between the two you are his proudest achievement. When I contemplate the majesty of the stars on a clear summer night, I feel relieved to know how insignificant I am. When I think about our cities crumbling and turning to dust, it reminds me that my life is only as important as I want it to be. It eases my mind to know that I don’t have to spend my life pleasing God or the universe- the only person whose happiness I need to be concerned with is my own, for as long as I live.
I look up at the sky to catch my breath and notice that the pristine blue sky has but one, solitary cloud rolling pleasantly along its vast expanse. It is unbothered by our presence, it cares not for our problems: it is perfectly contented to just stroll across the sky with no worries in sight, like the businessmen that walk past me on their lunch break. I stare at it for a while, watching how slowly it crawls across the satiny sky, and breathe deeply. How satisfying it is to realize that we are all just clouds, passing through.