One of my favorite TV shows right now is The Last Man on Earth. The show’s premise is that a viral outbreak has killed nearly all people and animals, save a few who were immune or unexposed. At the beginning of the show, we meet Phil Miller, who’s been traveling the country trying to find other survivors after losing everyone he knew. He’s miserable and lonely, and just when he’s about to give up on life, he meets another survivor, Carol. As the series progresses, a few others join them. Phil struggles to adjust to living with people again. The circumstances bring together dissimilar people who likely would not have crossed paths before the virus, and we watch them try to figure out how to live in this new world. The show is quirky, funny, creative, and at times poignant, though it’s not as depressing as you might guess.
Money and laws are meaningless in the show’s world. Because nearly all of humanity is dead, the characters have access to an abundance of possessions. They set up house in abandoned mansions and raid stores for packaged food and clothing. They hop into whatever cars they find, including police cars. They can take whatever they want and there are no immediate consequences. They search for ways to entertain themselves, and many of the show’s shenanigans appear to arise from sheer boredom. They rarely take practical actions to ensure their future survival.
As I watched the latest episode recently, I Imagined what I would do if I found myself in the world of this show. After grieving the loss of all of my loved ones, I’d probably start out doing what Phil did: drive around the continent looking for companions while taking in the sights of all the places I’d never visited before. Then I’d settle in a place with a temperate climate and long growing season (on the show, the group starts in Tucson and later chooses to live in Malibu). I’d plant a garden to supply myself with some fresh food.
I would spend a significant amount of time reading, not just for entertainment but as a way to feel connected to human thought and people who have perished. I might choose a house near a library for access to the reference materials, since I’d need to learn how to do nearly everything myself. I’d write and paint, despite the lack of an immediate audience for my creations. I’d create as a way of keeping my mind active; sorting through my thoughts, memories, and emotions; and leaving a legacy to be found by any other survivors or their progeny who might stumble upon my writings and paintings in the future.
I’d go on long walks and do a lot of yoga. I’ve heard that prisoners in solitary confinement often rise at the same time every morning and do the same long series of exercises to build some structure into their days and help them keep track of the passing time. I expect I would need that structure and physical activity to combat restlessness and hopelessness. I would probably teach myself a language or learn to play a musical instrument, both to entertain myself and to keep my mind engaged. I would also meditate often in an effort to gain and maintain some internal peace and equanimity.
Are you a fan of The Last Man on Earth? What would you do if you no longer had to work for money or goods and were faced with indefinite periods of solitude? How would you build meaning?
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