Outside the ruins of Tiwanaku, a hundred school children run about in a dusty, trash-strewn field, chasing balls and one another. There is almost nothing to play with but they are playing.
The builders of Tiwanaku built their city like a mountain. “If we build our cities like mountains it is because they are meant to endure as long as mountains,” they thought. “Our realm is eternal. We must have the favor of the great gods, because we take care to honor them so well. We have built effigies five times the height of a man out of a single block of stone hauled arduously over the plain from quarries many miles away. Only gods can give this kind of skill and power, and they give it to us, so that we may honor them. On occasion, we sacrifice our best men and women to them, to please them and earn our continuance, our place in their eternity. The world is forever, and we were meant to live and rule forever in it.”
Now their city is a crumbled pile of jumbled monoliths that later men and women have come to reconstruct, like children playing with giant wooden blocks. No one conquered the old ones, who ruled over as many as three million for two thousand years. Their kingdom stretched far beyond the crooked colonial boundaries a later empire drew on the vast landscape.
They simply fell. They were and then were not powerful. They dispersed.
And today we know, and are always forgetting that we know, that the mountains are not eternal either. The whole exalted plain lay deep under the sea a long time past; the great original lake, highest of its size in the world, which may have once been sea too has risen and fallen, swallowing other monuments; the earth’s crust cracks and shifts; our perfect alignments with the eternal heavens become imperfect, because we are always moving through heavens that are not eternal, but in motion themselves everywhere and always. Everything moves. Everything scatters and regathers and scatters again, like the children playing in the stubble field. There is no such thing as stillness – it is an hallucination we have come to believe in by staring too long at stones, admiring the dead stillness first of stone and then of steel and plastic. Stop. Time. Stop it, we beg. If we can think beyond it then we must be able to live beyond it. Yes, we must.
But today we have in fact forgotten to beg or negotiate for continuance and instead demand it, making more and more and more of ourselves, like weeds that colonize an empty (but not truly – never truly empty) plain, covering the great wide spaces of the old world with our undecaying flocons of plastic trash, our pocked roads, and the rubble of our frenzied construction. With drafty structures that won’t last two dozen years much less two thousand, grasping in our hands tiny tools to collapse time into nanoseconds, freeze-dry it into data bits, transform eternity into the zero point of nownownownownow.
The children on the dusty plain will live in houses that are half-finished, ride in buses that are always breaking down, talk to each other on phones that work intermittently and get thrown away every two or three years. Their lives will be happy or sad, successful or frustrated, marked by health or illness, joy, hope, accomplishment, boredom. But like the rest of us, each one will leave behind a legacy of net increase of local entropy – energy lost to heat, material converted into waste. Which may be the only epoch-enduring sign that we were here.
A great cracked Door, the Gateway of the Sun, ten tons of stone carved from a single block, may once have marked a temple entrance but was found on the site collapsed, broken, and covered in mud. It has been raised again and made to stand upright, marking nothing now. A gateway to blue air. At the center of its lintel the Sun God appears to weep as he holds the upside down figures of a condor and a jaguar like scepters in his hands. Both creatures are nowhere to be seen in these windswept spaces. To conquer all nature is to weep, because it is to understand perhaps that after all the killing, all the paving and carving and digging and fighting and poisoning and torturing and buying and selling and planting of stones and flags, the unquiet living world keeps on shifting under your feet. Why would the sun, without which there would be no life here, need all this death as tribute?
We have misunderstood; we have gravely misunderstood.
Are the playing children our hope or a kind of weed or virus or nothing but playing children? Does what I can see now matter at all?
The mysteries of Tiwanaku are not really the mysteries of how the past was but of why the present is as it is. And the future?
Is only temporary.