When I was a Junior in highschool, I discovered a playground in my neighborhood. It’d been there for years, and I think I’d been there before, just after it’d been built, but in my characteristic space cadet fashion, I’d forgotten about it. It was nice; I’d always wanted a yard or a swing set, and I’ve never really had one. But now, at 10:45 on a school night, I had this playground all to myself.
I didn’t really think about anything in particular, I just swung for a while, looking at the winking stars. It was a nice respite from my constantly racing mind, all the problems that I see and can’t do anything about.
I jumped off, afraid my over-enthusiastic swinging was going to wake the park’s true owners. I climbed up the slide and laid down on the little plastic plank bridge, delicate moisture clinging to my shirt.
I stared at the stars again, which never fail to amaze me. They looked so calm and unchanging. But I knew that we were racing through them at incomprehensible speeds, that the very stuff of the universe was spreading out between us and the some of the light hitting my eyes was emitted countless eons ago, perhaps by stars long dead. And it seems so unbearably corny, but that’s life, isn’t it? Even when things look like they’re going to last forever, they never will. All permanence is an illusion, a misconception, a coping mechanism. For us humans, time marches ever on, heedless. Something else is always coming, changes waiting in the cosmic gearworks.
It’s not always going to be bad, but it’s going to be change, and that frightens us. Most of the time, it seems like the worst thing in the world. Whether things are sublime or shit, we can’t help but think, “But things could be so much worse.” Change is different and unknown and unpredictable, and we find comfort in predictability. But, most of the time, the worst case scenario is that you get to try something new, you get to rise to a challenge and grow into a more complete version of yourself. Comfort is a hollow, shallow seduction, an unsustainable and ultimately un-fulfilling goal for all. Comfort inevitably deteriorates into boredom and dissatisfaction.
I stared up. The guard rails on the playground bridge hedged the sides of my sight. I felt trapped, but free. I didn’t have to go forwards or backwards, along the beaten path. I could just go up.
A blinking light traveled across my vision, already blurring from scratched retinas and over-tired eyes, and I was amazed again. If a human from any other time- 10,000 years ago, 1000 years ago, 100 years ago- saw what I was seeing, they would have been dumbfounded, amazed, and probably horrified. Maybe they’d think it was a god, or some grand celestial occasion.
I, though, I know that it’s just a bunch of people flying through the sky in a big metal bird, a big heavy tube with wings that goes so fast that it doesn’t fall.
I was dumbfounded, amazed, and a little horrified.
It’s so amazing to me, that we can fly. Homo Sapiens wasn’t born to do that. We were born simple hunter-gatherers, immersed in mere animal sustenance and existence. We weren’t born to cross oceans and we weren’t born to send robots to other planets, to build artificial eyes that let us see the ancient galaxies at the edge of our universe and the beginning of time, or to peek at the infinitesimal building blocks of matter. We weren’t born to make art, to crack jokes, to build pyramids and skyscrapers and bridges. But look what we’ve done, through the power of our imagination and belief. We’ve taken what was given to us, and we’ve made something so much greater, deeper, richer. We haven’t followed the plan we were given, we’ve broken the rules that were handed to us, and we’ve become the gods of yesterday, remaking the world in the image of our dreams.
I’m not meant to be alive right now. One thing after another proves that to me, almost every day. If I was born ten years earlier, I’d be dead, no different than the billions before me. I’ve broken the rules that I was handed, the most important rules in the book. Now, though, the little rules have gotten me hung up. The little, stupid, man-made rules. Corrupt politics and rigged economics, a culture manufactured by corporations (which are soulless, no matter if they are ‘people’ in the eyes of the law) to make us docile, to instill us with fear and material desire and thus drain of us our vitality and exuberence, a growing lack of community and almost no sense of mutual identity. We rose to greatness because we broke the rules, and now we’ve laid an insidious new set upon ourselves, and suffering under their orderly havok.
We figured out how to reach out to that perfect white circle in the nighttime sky, a little light that actually turned out to be a massive hunk of rock, a whole new world, and we reached out and set foot on it. We can do that, across hundreds of thousands of miles, but we can’t reach out to the people all around us. We can fly through the air faster than sound—faster than thunder!— and we can send a message from one side of the planet to the other in a matter of seconds. We can dive to the depths of the ocean’s deepest chasms, leap to the edge of the atmosphere, and beyond. In the process, however, we have lost our way, lost touch with that ability to immerse ourselves in the ever-present beauty of existence, because the rules of modern civilization do not lend themselves easily to a vibrant, spiritual relationship with reality.
We have jobs, we have obligations, we have debts, and we have materialistic desires and are indoctrinated in the habitual cravings of consumerism. We are all wounded, full of a hollowness, a void, a lack, an isolation. We are all fundamentally hurt by our disconnection from our birthright, our intuitive communion with the Mysterium tremendum, and we are traumatized by this brutal injury, and this trauma makes us afraid. And our fear posseses us to struggle violently, and we lash out at each other, acting only to protect ourselves from the dangerous world, and thus compound our suffering. This fundamental fear of discomfort is the end effect— and eventually the self-sustaining cause— of the rules of modern living and it is leading us in a vicious, deceptive cycle of suffering that ends with our ultimate destruction.
We can’t keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve got a lot of hard times around us and ahead of us. Corruption, war, epidemics, natural disasters, famine, global warming, the looming energy crisis and failing healthcare system, problems ad infinitum. We’re fast approaching the event horizon, the point of no return. If we’re together, we can break the rules again, we can beat the odds and come out on top, figure out bold and innovative solutions to the most insurmountable problems and through our united efforts create a new, beautiful tomorrow. But if we get there, if we get to that turning point, however many years down the road it may be, and we still can’t constantly and consistently give a fuck about our fellow man, then…we’re gone, as a species, and we deserve it. We will have sacrificed the greatest potential in the history of Man and Earth on the bloodied altar of fear and destruction.
You can’t blame us for acting this way, because when it comes down to it, life is pretty fucking scary. We grow up, we grow old, and then we die, and there’s a lot of pain on the way. That’s the facts, and that’s probably not going to change for a while. But when people, humans, when we fight with each other, too, life gets a whole lot shittier. We’re all on the same team, playing the same game, and we spend the whole time killing and fighting and squabbling and never remember that the point isn’t to win, the point is to have fun and enjoy each other. We cannot allow ourselves to be selective with our compassion. It’s not reserved for the people who you Love, the people who you’ve known for years, the people who you’re friends with, the people whose names you know, the people who you think deserve it. Compassion is a basic rightness and necessity for us humans, to give and receive, a bare minimum of respect and dignity that we all owe to ourselves and eachother.
We’ve grown up being taught that the survival of the fittest is a big rule in nature. The meanest, the toughest, the roughest. They’re the ones who are supposed to make it, they’re supposed to take out the meek, the weak, and the sick. But those rules cannot apply anymore, we’re playing a different ball game, we’re playing the grand game of Human Civilization, and if we let them, the fittest will take us all down their short-sighted greed and ignorant arrogance. Cut-throat competition is un-ideal and inefficient and, ultimately, self-destructive. Large-scale, pervasive cooperation and symbiosis are the only paths to our continued survival and prosperity.
This doesn’t have to be come about all at once, does not have to be given proof positive by some renown dramatic victory. We can’t go out and disarm every nuclear bomb in the world right now. We can’t destroy every bullet. We can’t cure all the sick kids or heal all of the broken families or feed all of the starving families. We can’t even force people to stop hating people because of their races, their faces, or their beliefs. What I think I can do, maybe, is help people realize. Help them realize that we do have to be nice to each other, and we do have to care about each other, no matter what. Because whatever anyone does, they’re still human, and they need to be loved. Help them realize that there are no evil people, only evil actions, and that although love makes us vulnerable, it also makes us powerful beyond all imagining. Because love kills fear and heals pain, it binds our wounds and salves our souls, it lifts our spirits and soothes our worries, it bolsters our strength and opens our minds. And if we allow ourselves to love unconditionally, to love ourselves even when we are weak and stupid and miserable, to love each other even when we are cruel and self-centered and ignorant, to love the world even when it buries us it shit, then we shall rise, we shall rise out of the shit and misery and find ourselves racing joyfully towards the promise of unknown horizons.
So I say that the survival of the fittest and its dogma of fear and aggression is the next rule for us to break. And I say this because when I look up at the sky, it tells me so much. I look at the shimmering starfield, and I see the unfathomable vastness of the universe, the endless void punctuated by specks of brilliance, and I think about how we’re a bright lonely mote adrift in the careless night, about how this is the only home we’ve got, about how we’re all brothers and sisters and our destinies are inextricably, harmoniously intertwined. I’m moved to humbleness, to appreciate my own un-ignorable insignificance in the grand scheme, to realize that that insignificance is a liberation, because it means that I have nothing to worry about except for this moment, nothing to accomplish but to do good and be an agent of light and love, to heal myself and thus begin to heal my miniscule section of the world.
I look at the blinking aircraft lights and swift little satellites, and I’m amazed by what miraculous feats we can accomplish, I’m inspired to defy all of today’s expectations and fight to forge a better a tomorrow, I’m awed by the promise of possibility.
Even when I am in the darkest of places, I look up at the sky, and I can’t help but be moved to belief. Belief in humanity, in hope, in light and love. Belief that things are far more complicated than they seem. Belief that nothing is impossible.
Belief that together we can —and must— heal ourselves and our world, and that our redemption and salvation await us in the power of love.