The Ascent of Humankind

ad220478590first-lady-miche-e1474795934923I have always been a creature of habit. When I was still working I had to keep to a hard and fast routine or I would end up feeling overwhelmed. I told myself that when I finally retired I would become more easy going but found it almost impossible to live without daily parameters. I still generally follow a pattern of living not unlike the one that guided me for most of my adult life. I find myself measuring the quality of my day by the number of tasks that I accomplish. I follow the same steps both when I awake and during the waning hours before I retire for the night. There is comfort in the sameness at the beginning and end of each cycle of the sun. The things that I repeat over and over again provide me with a feeling of stability in a world that of late seems to have gone somewhat mad.

One of my morning quirks is to read the news while I eat my breakfast. I want to know what has happened in the world while I was slumbering. I know all too well what might take place in the dark of night. I have lived the nightmare of arising to learn that a loved one has died while I was blissfully dreaming. Waking to very bad news has happened to me and to my friends many times over. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that I have evolved into a restless sleeper, always on alert. I am thankful for each morning that I see the sun but also leery that I might learn of yet another tragic event.

Today I awoke to find that a shooter was firing at passersby at a strip center in my city. I am quite familiar with the area where the incident unfolded even though it is somewhat far from where I actually live. I have shopped and dined there. For many years I dreamed of living in the neighborhood near there. It is an upscale part of town, somewhere that always seemed safe and devoid of the problems that plague much of Houston.

The updates that kept pinging on my phone indicated that six people were transported to the hospital which luckily is only minutes away in one of the best medical centers in the world. The shooter was “neutralized.” The always very busy road where all of this played out was closed and there was a shelter in place for residents of an apartment complex located near the tragedy. In real time I learned all about an event about which I might have been ignorant in times past and I find myself wondering if all of this news to which we are privy is helping or hurting us. Do we actually have better lives because we are now able to be “eyewitnesses” to war and murder or is the continuous barrage of carnage somehow damaging our collective psyche? Are we becoming immune to the violence or is it frightening and inciting us? Is there a connection between the twenty four hour news cycle and the questionable character of the two people that we have nominated as the potential leaders of our nation? Are we indeed backed onto a dangerous precipice or is the continuous reality show to which the newscasters subject us merely hyperbole designed to keep our attention? How much do we really need to know and how much should we simply ignore?

I am as uncertain about such things as most people are these days. I take comfort in knowing that while we do indeed live in a brave new world that is fraught with uniquely modern day problems, mankind’s journey has wound its way through centuries and somehow we have managed time and again to continue moving slowly but surely forward. Time stretches so far back that it is unimaginable. Our history as people is recorded from thousands of years ago. Whether we take the Old Testament of the Bible for granted or view it as a kind of folktale we understand that murder, war and mistreatment have been a part of our natures for as long as we have walked on this earth but hope and promise of a better world have time and again guided us to the realization of our better natures.

I began watching a series on the history of India last night. It told of ancient Greek navigators who risked monsoons to sail to India in search of enchanting spices like pepper and cardamon. The narrator told of the development of the silk road from China and the earliest kingdoms that dominated what we now call the Middle East, Pakistan and India itself. Many of the places that became centers of invention, trade and religious pilgrimages still exist today much as they did thousands of years ago. Most of the progress and learning that prompted such adventures took place during long stretches of peace. When there was no war humans turned their talents and their interests to creativity and inventiveness. Sadly jealousies and hunger for power all too often overtook mankind’s better natures and brought violence that destroyed entire dynasties. Our collective story demonstrates a human pattern of renaissance and destruction that asserts itself over and over again.

We never seem to completely solve all of our problems even with our best intentions to do so. Sometimes events overwhelm us and we become swept up in realities that most of us would rather avoid. We become part of the cycles of both everyday living and history. Our hope is that somehow we will manage not just to survive the difficult times but also to become stronger and better because of our experiences. Our goal is to learn and improve and move forward, a dream that is at times easier to imagine that to execute. It requires the capacity and willingness to accept one another just as we are.

In a world that can seem cruel and unfeeling a breathtaking thing happened this past weekend at the opening of the new Smithsonian museum for African American history. A photographer captured a touching moment when First Lady Michelle Obama gave a big hug to a smiling former President George W. Bush. The photo shows a millisecond of unplanned, unrehearsed innocence and genuine friendship between two people who have often been scorned by the public at large. In that brief encounter lay the seeds of a better future, a time when we might become more capable of seeing each other not as philosophies or religions or nations but simply as the wonderfully beautiful human beings that we are. It is only when we can look past the slogans and posturing and opinion mongering that continually invade our space that we truly harness the potential for greatness that lies in each and every one of us. It is during the times that we grow weary of fighting and instead live and let live that our humanity most shines forth. That is when our most awe inspiring spirits have the room to soar and ascend.

I don’t know where we are in the unfolding our human history. I have seen both good and bad times in my almost seventy decades. In the grand scheme of things I am but an infant and yet I know enough about our human routines to believe like King Lear that we always circle back to peace and goodness even when we appear to be at our worst. No matter how bad things may look, we need to keep the faith. A new day will come. The sun will shine. A Leonardo da Vinci or an Albert Einstein will be born. The future lies somewhere in our midst, somewhere in each one of us, and it is good. 

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