Preparing for a Beautiful End

How to live—and die—in a society that may soon begin to collapse.

  • "Everything comes to an end," she said as she poured herself a glass of water. "It's mysterious, but it's also so completely ordinary. Of course it’s going to end."
    Photo by Fotolia/Serjik Ahkhundov

Sunlight streams through the second-floor windows of a duplex on a tree-lined residential street in Victoria, British Columbia. In the kitchen, Carmen Spagnola is simmering a pot of rabbit meat on the stove while her husband, Ruben Anderson, Googles techniques for making sauerkraut. Their home looks commonplace enough: bookshelves line the walls, a vase of lilies adorns the dining room table. Outside, the lawn is getting a little ragged around the edges, there’s a pile of chopped firewood in the driveway, and seven black, silky-haired rabbits nibble at the grass poking up into their chicken-wire runs. Nothing too far from ordinary. Nothing to signal to a visitor that Carmen and Ruben are busy preparing for the end of civilization.

On the morning I first visited Ruben and Carmen, standing in their sunlit kitchen, I mentioned somewhat glibly that I was writing an article about the end of the world. Carmen’s response was matter-of-fact. “Everything comes to an end,” she said as she poured herself a glass of water. “It’s mysterious, but it’s also so completely ordinary. Of course it’s going to end.”

Ruben made us each an espresso using an ancient chrome-handled machine salvaged from a restaurant he used to own. The coffee was bitter on my tongue, but also rich, layered with complexity.

Last fall, Carmen watched an old friend die of cancer. She was struck by the dignity with which he encountered his death. He called it the next great adventure. Carmen would like to bear witness to the unraveling of our society with the same unflinching gaze. “Rather than trying to preserve or escape or even prolong, we have to meet it,” she said. “And right now we’re actually making it worse by not meeting the moment the way that we need to. And that is undignified. It hurts our sensibility as humans, because I think most of us know on some level that this is not working.”

As I drank my coffee and looked out the window at the quiet street and the maroon leaves of the ornamental plum trees casting their patterned shade on the sidewalk, I found it difficult to envision this pleasant reality coming to an end. But isn’t that always how it is? We all know we’re going to die; we just don’t quite believe it.

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