A couple weeks ago, my parents participated in a theater project called “Acting Our Age.” It was a living retrospective, narrated by them and 5 other residents of the retirement community in which they live, and it was amazing. My parents were the youngest, at 74 (Dad) and 74(Mom) years of age; next there were 2 gentlemen in their mid-80s; the remaining 3 were women in their mid-90s. Listening to them narrate their life experiences over the last 70-95 years of American life, accompanied by music, short videos, and slides, was truly beautiful. It was admittedly a limited view, as all 7 were white, but hearing 95 years of American history was still remarkable.
I’m now sitting at the kitchen table of a log cabin in the NC mountains, wondering if even my generation will have the opportunity to do the same, much less the generations of our daughters and after?
In January 2019, I published a blog post It’s the End of the World as We Know It. In it, I enumerated various trends in the world today, which indicate that human civilization is on the verge of destroying, or at least crippling, itself. The adulation of ignorance, the renewed rise of fascism and authoritarianism, the gross concentration of wealth among a very few, the denial of science, and worst of all, human-caused climate change. Europe and the Indian subcontinent, in particular, are experiencing yet another 500-year summer; it’s the 5th in just 15 years – a shocking statistical anomaly that can only be explained by anthropogenic global warming. Arctic and Antarctic ice, along with the massive glaciers of Greenland, are melting at rates only predicted by the most catastrophic predictions of scientists.
And yet…..the current American government continues to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus; continues to promote the worst polluting fossil fuels; undermines all efforts to research ways to stop AGW, or even to measure its progress. The Brazilian government is accelerating the deforestation of the Amazon to unheard of rates. It’s true that the growth of renewable energy sources continues, but it’s nowhere close to fast enough, and carbon emissions are growing all over the planet. The safest energy source available to us, nuclear, is still (ignorantly and wrongly) feared too much to allow it to make the huge contribution that it could.
And so, on a day that I hoped would be one of rest and relaxation, not just for my physical body, but for my spirit (not in any sense intended religiously), instead I look out the window in despair.
Seeking … What? Acceptance? Peace? Courage?
Taoism and Buddhism each, in slightly different ways, teach that suffering afflicts us because of our emotional attachments. Attachments to things, to people, to places, to ways of life, to habits. In learning to detach ourselves, we alleviate our suffering.
I know that my sorrow now comes from attachments. The attachment to the optimistic hopes and dreams of a better future for myself and humanity when I was a child, teen, and early adult. An attachment to the ideals of Gene Roddenberry’s inspiring vision for humanity, embodied the the various Star Trek series and particularly The Next Generation. An attachment to the idea, that the world we will leave our children, would be better than the one we inherited. Deliberately choosing to detach myself from those hopes and dreams, for our generation and future generations, seems like giving up. Acceptance of what is to come feels nihilistic and fatalistic, 2 concepts that were foreign to me for most of my life.
Of course, detachment and acceptance do not necessarily imply surrender or utterly giving up hope. One can accept what is, even what is to come, and not despair. Not give up. Find new courage and strength to fight for a better future. Realize that our efforts, however small they may be, may still be a part of a greater whole to yet triumph. Maybe not in my lifetime; maybe not even in our children’s lifetimes, but one day. Or maybe sooner than we imagine possible?
The Surcease of Sacred Music
I am an agnostic atheist, and the Christian words of whatever language hold no meaning for me. Sacred music itself, however, has often been of great comfort to me. Right now, I’m listening to the Anonymous 4 album, “The Origins of Fire – Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen,” and another album of von Bingen’s music by Sequentia, “Canticles of Ecstasy.” There’s something about the soaring women’s voices, echoing from the walls of ancient European cathedrals, that has always brought me peace. Much like the Gregorian Chants of the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo. And the “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl, which I still think is the most ecstatically beautiful piece of music ever written.
What Does the Future Hold?
There were certainly times during the lives of the “Coming of Age” participants, when it may have seemed that all hope was lost. World War II. Communism. The Vietnam War. The threat of nuclear holocaust. Yet somehow, the long arc of history did tend towards justice. There’s no guarantee of that continuing of course, but just as good people during those times did not give up, so can we not give up now. My despair is but a passing thing. Human ingenuity has often found unexpected paths around seemingly insurmountable odds. And I can find peace for now. Certainly, just writing this all out has helped, as it’s no longer bottled up inside me, festering and killing hope.
I will allow the music to soar in me. I will look upon the beauty around us and gather strength. I will spend time with my wife and daughters, allowing our love for each other to strengthen and shelter us. And we will look with a realistic eye to the future, while holding on to the hopes and dreams to make it better than we now fear.