Jun 102015
 

Note: This has been submitted for the July/August issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.

Humanity is, I believe, on the cusp of a new era. Depending on the choices we make, the future will be informed by wisdom beyond our dreams, or imbued with ignorance and wanting.

Am I alone in feeling that many of our species’ collective actions seem self-centered and selfish? It’s as if we are still in our adolescence searching for identity. We grab Earth’s resources because exerting power over Mother Earth—or as I prefer, Pacha Mama—affirms an identity we doubt.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of the hero’s journey, an individual’s passage through the depths and darkness, emerging on the other side with wisdom and sagacity, the profundity of which can only come from the struggle. What most separates youth from elderhood is a deep understanding and acceptance of self, much of which comes from the many struggles through which we visit the depths and return, burnished, refined and wiser…less ego-imbued, self-centered and selfish.

The people we embrace as wisdom keepers throughout history were, at some point, torn asunder by journeys of nearly unfathomable pain and heartbreak, only to return with an extraordinary understanding of what it means to be human. Mahatma Gandhi’s and Nelson Mandela’s ego-crushing years in prison comes to mind.

As a species, we have faced many journeys through the darkness: world wars, genocides, famines and natural disasters. We have gained wisdom from each, but we seem to forget so rapidly, returning to wasteful, selfish ways—ignorant of the delicate, life-giving balance of the planet. Today, we deplete precious resources at increasingly alarming rates.

Perhaps the hero’s journey that will provide lasting wisdom—move us closer to elderhood of the species—is yet to come.

My brother-in-law, Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Hawai’i, has spoken of a world depleted of oil…a world he feels is approaching swiftly, much sooner than we can find alternatives. Having read and listened, it is an often frightening picture that can include famine, institutional collapse and chaos. Edward O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus from Harvard, once referred to the 21st century as the bottleneck humanity must negotiate if we are to survive.

I wonder if what lies ahead is a collective hero’s journey unlike those through which we have already traversed. A journey that will refine and burnish the species in ways we cannot yet imagine. If such a journey is in our future, I also wonder if we will find the courage to endure the depths required for our resurrection as wiser, more mature inhabitants of the Earth…to move as a species from adolescence into elderhood.

If we do find the courage to make generosity and compassion our dominant voice, those moments are perhaps the greatest opportunities we have ever had for acquiring wisdom. If we do not, I fear we will never advance beyond our current selfish ignorance.

We could be standing at the doorway, upon a huge welcome mat, inviting us to co-create with Pacha Mama the next epoch of her future. Not a future separate from humanity and not a future for humanity separate from Mother Nature. But a future for a global life force, fully integrated, and intimately intertwined; a future in which we finally understand and fully respect our place as an important, but far-from-dominant species. The next century offers us an advanced degree in existentialism. Why do we exist? Do we truly belong here in this Universe? And if we do, what is our role and how should we be in relation to life itself.

If the hero’s journey I am suggesting transpires, we are approaching a time during which we can allow Pacha Mama to extract from us, individually and collectively, the infinite wisdom of which we are capable. That future holds for all creatures, riches of joy, wisdom, generosity, understanding and love beyond anything we have ever imagined, or ever could imagine. Will we get there without pain, heartache, suffering and sadness? That would contradict the very definition of wisdom. Will the riches we will discover be commensurate with the heartache and suffering we may face? Not only is it possible, I believe the wisdom available to us far exceeds the price we are asked to pay.

I fervently believe it is human nature to be generous rather than selfish. When we stop long enough to re-connect with parts of the biosphere from which we have become aliens, I hope we will re-member we are part of a much larger whole.

I must have hope. Because if I lose hope, what have I left?

Aug 052011
 
The following will be published in the next issue of Neighbors of Batavia Magazine.
Like a modern day Parthenon, it wore the ravages of time—but this monument to human endurance had no one to defend it against old age, or protect it for future generations. It stood pockmarked and failing, left as nothing more than a canvas for modern day artists and their graffiti. It stood as a memorial to what appeared to be a very different age.
Judi and I were examining this concrete formation in a digital image from our daughter Kathryn. On it, stood twelve students from her summer program in eastern Europe. “Do you have any idea what we’re standing on?” Kathryn asked via Skype. “It’s all that remains of the luge track from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.” I was stunned! A feeling of sadness and loss assaulted me. This immense sculpture, which appeared to be from a much earlier age, was only 30 years old; a mere child in the panoply of human construction. Yet this child sat neglected and unloved.
Then Kathryn lobbed a verbal bombshell I found vastly more disturbing than the digital image on my computer screen; one that explained the premature aging of the luge track. “During the tour of Sarajevo, the guide insisted we remain on the path he traversed…if we were to stray, we would run the risk of detonating a land mine.”
I had to catch my breath. My little girl, one of two young adults I have tenaciously guarded and protected for the majority of my adult life, was walking the terrain ravaged by the Bosnian War that raged from April 1992 to December 1995.
As we sat in the comfort of our home, intimately and immediately connected to our daughter by the Internet, yet separated by thousands of miles, she proceeded to take us on a pictorial tour of Sarajevo; each image littered with the remnants of war…hundreds of buildings that still wore the scars of bullets and mortars.
In the weeks since our virtual pilgrimage to war-torn Sarajevo, I have been dragged back many times to images of life in a country where children live in constant fear of straying from the path…children who have lost the opportunity to roam freely and explore the land where they live. And while I am aware there are many places in America where children live in fear of straying from their homes, there is simply nothing in my life experience that can help me understand what it would mean not to be able to stroll the thousands of fields and forests I have wandered and explored over 60 years.
As I travel the roads and byways of America, I see much human creation vandalized by graffiti. And while most disappoints or angers me, an occasional image reveals artistic potential, or strikes an indispensable note about what it means to be human. But land mines are the hellish graffiti born of hatred and human conflict with no possible redemptive value. It is bad enough we scar human creation with pigment, but it is simply inexcusable to have scarred with explosives that which was created and left for us by the eternal.
Then, finally, I wonder if even my child has been left scared by the journey. In spite of my desire to protect her, will her experience of the results of hatred and conflict detonate within her some time in her future? Actually, I am hopeful it will. I am hopeful, as a result of experiencing humanity in ways I never could, she and her generation will find ways to diffuse the next generation of bombs, mortars and land mines before they too can be used to ravage tomorrow’s monuments to human creativity and endurance.