In 2021, William Shatner (who played the famous Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise from the hit show Star Trek) was the oldest person at age 90 to actually go into space, traveling on board Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Space Shuttle.
Shatner didn’t “bravely go into space”; instead, he ran into a deep, fearful, all-encompassing blackness. Leaving life here on Earth, Shatner recounted, was “among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered.” What he saw was a cold emptiness, pitch-black darkness, and an endless void that left him saying, “All I felt was death.” I imagine that what Shatner experienced up there was what it’s like to lose everything that you have in this world and be totally alone and completely vulnerable.
In Eastern religions, like Buddhism, there is a strong belief that impermanence is a fundamental part of life, and that, basically, as people, we end up losing everything that we work so hard to amass and then grieve over it and suffer because of it. Basically, in the end, we leave the world alone, just as we came into it. We are just by ourselves, or you could say, “with me, myself, and I.”
Recently, I overheard a fight between two people. First, it started out with two angry people disagreeing and arguing, but at some point, it turned brutal and incredibly vicious as the two people started to personally go at it and attack each other. At one point, I heard one vehemently say to the other:
I hope you lose everything!
They didn’t just say it nonchalantly either; they said it more as a horrible curse. As I considered it, this was the worst curse anyone could bestow on another. It wasn’t saying, “I hope you lose your big fancy house, or your snazzy sports car, or your prestigious high-paying job, etc.” Instead, it was literally wishing for the other person to lose everything and everyone—basically life and limb. I started to think about this a lot. What does it mean to lose everything?
In the morning, we Jews say the many blessings, where we thank G-d for so many things, from giving us our health to waking us up, straightening our back, dressing us, helping us to walk, being able to see, giving us strength, providing for all our needs, and on and on. Cursing someone to lose everything implies that everything we have (whether we appreciate it or not) can and may be lost. From health to home; from job to fortune; from friends to family; from freedom to reputation—in short order, a person can be reduced to absolutely nothing but their very soul. And if the destruction or loss of one thing can bring pain, suffering, and grief, just imagine losing everything, like Job, and how unbelievably and endlessly painful that is. Also, this week’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria, which brought down hundreds of buildings and killed 25,000 people, reminds us of this kind of horrible fate. We can almost hear the victims’ screams from under the rubble and feel the helplessness and grief of the people who couldn’t do much to help them.
While space is the “final frontier,” Shatner is correct in his fear of the cold and emptiness that extends around countless stars and solar systems, where we have yet to discover any real life other than our own. Even on our own living planet here on Earth, everything for us as individuals is impermanent and can so easily be lost. What we think we’ve built as a fortress of money, power, and prestige can literally be snuffed out in a blink of an eye, and it is beyond our control to stop it except to continue to mend our own flaws and try to do good in life. In truth, we need to be constantly grateful for everything that we have and for as long as we have it, because in life, there are no guarantees of what is to come.
Finally, as with the Tower of Babel, G-d does not permit anyone to materially build themselves into the infinity of the heavens. In the end, only our good deeds have any permanence and help us merit to bask in Hashem’s true, everlasting light, love, and holiness.