A Test We Can't Afford to Fail
In memory of the victims of hate 16 years ago today.
In honor of our selfless heroes.
With hope for our world and our future.
The historic, epic storm named Harvey was unfathomable. Its scope, size, behavior, strength…we have seen nothing like it.
Until Irma, that is. Only a week later to again find our selves in fight-or-flight mode, preparing to be pummeled and strewn and withered from extraordinary weather, is incredulous.
The teacher in me, always looking for the lesson, couldn’t help but wonder, what will we learn from these burgeoning storms? Will we heed the message - the “elephant” in the gulf, in the Caribbean, in the atmosphere? And will we do so in time to save our selves?
A historic eclipse brought so many of us together, reminding us of our minuteness compared to the vastness, and the miraculous, omnipotent workings of the universe. We stopped, if only for a few moments, to be humbled and to pay attention to a force larger than ourselves.
And through this event, maybe we can grasp the hidden kernel of wisdom that could save us: This universe, and life itself, is beyond our grasp, and it’s time we accepted that while we are participants, we are not in charge.
We humans have minds that think and reason to depths that parallel those of no other species on this planet, as far as we can tell. We try, and need, to understand the world, and thank goodness for this. It has brought us to this time and place in our history as a species where cures, inventions and innovations have increased our life span and enabled us to “move about the cabin” on spaceship Earth with unprecedented comfort and ease.
But we are also threatening our own existence. Because along with the need to understand life in our world, we are driven by another need that is perhaps more dominant – the need to control our fear of it.
Deep down we know we are not in charge, and the heightened sense of vulnerability that comes with our innate intelligence and awareness makes us profoundly uncomfortable. Why is bigger and better and faster sought after with such drive? To illude us into an alternate frame of mind where we feel less small, less weak, and less inferior.
We know the powers and forces of nature that create us can also destroy us. Over millennia, wind, water, fire and earthquake have left us feeling shocked, traumatized and overwhelmed with unanswerable questions. And while we cannot fully explain the power of such phenomena despite all our scientific advancements and existential reflection, we substitute what would be an appropriate sense of awe and humility with behaviors that try to help us feel stronger, more powerful, and more in control.
And here’s where it has brought us, right up to this minute, this real-time blip on the timeline of humanity: We are endangering our own species. We talk about endangering the planet, which we are. But the planet will be whatever it will be, in part due to our actions, the consequences of which we can no longer ignore. The essential question that must be asked now, though, and answered before it is too late, is this: How will we continue to live on it?
We are standing at an existential juncture and we are facing a test that we can't afford to fail. We must stop, take a step back, and survey the landscape of the world we are living in. While it may feel like we're on a runaway train, one by one by one is how we can pull back from the brink and correct our course. How much more hate, over-consumption, waste and destruction must we endure before we wake up?
The planet is hurling us the message through violent storms of unprecedented magnitude. Fellow citizens and neighbors are screaming the message through violent words and acts of hate. And entire nations are launching messages through symbols of annihilation and destruction and devastation.
Sadly, those whose psyches and souls have been broken because they have been without the light of another, come together to feed off of one another’s despair, and lamentably find community in their dysfunction. Feelings of weakness, inferiority, and vulnerability can drive a person to extreme behavior and actions in order to fill a chasm inside their psyche and soul. The void is so deep, and the inward pull of the black hole within the self is so strong, no light can escape. It is intensely uncomfortable, as the light from others further illuminates the darkness within them selves. Too painful, they fight the light. Where do these fights take place?
On the playground.
In the locker room.
At the dinner table.
On street corners.
But the fight begins within oneself.
Our world is facing a virus of hate, and we must stop it in its tracks before we have an epidemic on our hands. The darkness can spread like a plague. Though it sounds incredibly trite, the antidote really is love, and it begins in each human heart, starting with our own. Forget staring down the missiles of nations. The real enemy is within. When, and only when, each human being can truly feel seen, heard and acknowledged will we begin to realize that producing and consuming more stuff, winning more power, or being first will never replace the loneliness and emptiness that can take up residence in the human heart.
Today, turn to another and look into their eyes. Listen to their thoughts and their stories. Acknowledge your shared humanity and the fact that we’re all in this together. Acknowledge our miraculous existence.
We will strengthen our selves and heal this broken world by seeing the light and the love in each other, one human heart at a time. But we must begin with our own. Stand before a mirror today and look into your own eyes. Listen to your own thoughts, your desires, your fears, your needs, your dreams. Acknowledge your own story. Own your story. And then resolve to create your story, and make it beautiful.
Life is fleeting. We are here but for a moment in the vastness of eternity. Think of how quickly a sunset fades, a child grows up, a day passes, we grow older. How do we want to live our precious moments of life? The choice is ours to make.
So is our future.