Data, Despair, and the Dying of the Light

Yesterday, I watched the series finale of Picard. As a life-long Trekkie, it was an emotional experience to say the least. I have, for the better part of almost 20 years, been raging at Data’s fate. As a deeply imaginative person, I have always gotten attached to fictional characters, and Data has occupied a space in my heart and mind since I was a child. I used to seethe at the injustice of his ending, yell at the screen every time I would see him on a rerun because his death at the end of Nemesis had been so abrupt and jarring. It was a wound that never healed.

And then, yesterday, it was suddenly stitched closed, with love and care and compassion. And for the last half hour of the show, I sat and let myself silently cry. But as I cried I realized that more than just give me closure on a beloved character, the episode had given me a pathway to express some of what I have kept bottled inside these past few weeks.

I have always been a fan of Dylan Thomas:

“Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

As someone who has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation most of my life, these words have been a comfort, a reminder, and a rallying call for me as I have clawed my way out of the pit of despair I often find myself in. I am not good at acceptance and that has been a blessing in many ways.

But right now, at this particular moment in history, acceptance is a necessary thing. Raging will not change the world in front of me right now, and I, who have always been a warrior and armed for battle, am left on the sidelines wondering what to do with myself.

It was in Data that I found my answer.

There is an article floating around right now from the Harvard Business Review about how what we are all feeling right now is actually grief. This huge, amorphous, pressing grief. Grief over what we have lost, grief that things will never be the same, grief that we might lose people we love or be lost ourselves before this is over. And like all grief, it has become a shadow that follows us around, the proverbial elephant in the room.

Crying in front of my TV last night was a way to name that elephant, a way to open the dam of pent up emotion and allow myself to see things as they are.

Because Data’s real lesson was about mortality. And in the end, facing our mortality is at the heart of all our grief. Coming to terms with the reality that we are brief, flickering candles in the vastness of the universe is a difficult, terrible thing. But it is also deeply liberating. Because when we can accept our mortality, we can begin to see precisely what Data was trying to tell us - that the ephemeral nature of our lives, the momentary way in which we pass through this world, is exactly what makes it all so beautiful and miraculous. The way we love one another, the way we choose to continue to hope, the way we are so willing to give everything up to keep each other safe - that is only possible because we are mortal, limited beings. All of that would be meaningless if we had eternity.

And that, too, has always been the message of Islam. Allah has always told us that our time here is brief, but meaningful. That our lives have so much potential to create beauty and meaning and joy, but that possibility exists precisely because we are only here for so long, travellers on a journey to a home that is beyond this place.

And so yes, what we are feeling is grief. But it is also recognition. It is the clearing of a mirror, the polishing of a glass. It is us slowly starting to see the world as it is, in all its crisp, fragile beauty. And as jarring as that is, it is also stunning and magnificent and achingly wonderful.

So give yourself space to grieve. Let your heart feel and your tears flow. But know that on the other side is an acceptance that will give you a strength you didn’t know you had, an unquenchable urge to make the very most of the time you are given. Tell people you love them, give generously of what you have, and do good recklessly.

We only have this moment.

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