I was reminded this morning, by one of my dearest friends, that the popular artists of the world die and the world mourns; the neglected and war-impoverished hundreds of thousands die, and the world barely sighs. If we believe the data in Wikipedia (yes, I know…), we can say that somewhere between 315,326,595 and 754,762,571 have died in ALL wars in recorded history. Syria, by contrast with 470,000, is a blip on the map. Hardly a scratch. The difference is, we see all our wars now with faces – on the TV, in the papers, in our Social Media feeds. War is not something far away. Humans may have found ways to kill lesser numbers of people, but they are still killing people regardless. Is this our nature?
This is 2016. This is a modern age, filled with technological wonders and unspeakable horrors. Are these new horrors more unspeakable than 40 million people losing their lives in WWII, which was almost as long? Can we actually say “War is better now than it was?” Is that because wars are inevitable? It seems to me that 2016 was a dark year for a lot of reasons. It had some bright spots but the darkness of fear, hatred, and ignorance seems to have settled in a weird inversion layer over our daily lives.We are more astonished at the idea of war because we think we’ve come so far. We haven’t come very far at all. Humans have lived in cities for 12,000 years. We’ve been “homo sapiens” for about 100,000 years. The world has been around for 4.534 billion years. WE -you, me, the U.S.A.- are also a blip. It makes me ask the question… why ARE we here? Simply because we’re here?
What does it mean to be in a modern age? Are we really all that modern? What does our modernity give us? How do we look our world in a wider view? What happened this year, good and bad, that makes us choose how the year unfolded?
Can I even recall all that happened just this year?
Remember Zika? In November, the WHO stated that Zika is no longer a global emergency but that it will be with us for a very long time. Remember Iran dismantling its nuclear program and sanctions being lifted? No nuclear war happened because of that and in fact, Iran seems to be responding to the world appropriately. Then there’s Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, who have at least agreed on something between the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches for the first time in 900 years, to sign a declaration together. Yes, there were bombings and suicide bombings, country leaders were charged and sentenced for crimes in their own countries and against humanity. The last video cassette recorder was manufactured in Japan (R.I.P, VCRs…). A vaccine was developed against the Ebola virus and yes, we had a Summer Olympics. Myths should die and new myths are born. The digital age has made monsters and myths from ordinary data. LOTS of things happened.
NASA had a stellar year (eh hem…) Juno entered orbit around Jupiter and began its 20 month surveillance of the gas giant. NASA also launched Osiris-Rex, an asteroid sample mission expected to return samples in 2023. Other space things happening here and there made the world a larger place. It’s easier to focus on out there, rather than “in here.” What is the future of NASA, I ask myself, on such an inconsistent platform coming up? Much depends on the ROI, it seems. Low-space orbit stuff seems out the window but space exploration in the longer term… well, private funding might be taking a larger role. Not a bad thing, I think. I’m sure there are pros and cons I am not seeing.
Then there is… the election. I don’t think anything more needs to be said about that more here. There’s nothing I could add or take away that would make any difference. The only thing I have to say is this (thank you, Gandalf…) “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” To that end, I’ve joined the ACLU, am supporting ProPublica, and am looking into what it might take to run for an office. Yes, in all my spare time. Maybe a small office, but an office nonetheless. I truly believe change happens at the local and county and state levels – the kind of changes that we need in government. I’m going to not use my FB feed for change but get on some gloves and work boots and kick some necessary butt. Our Presidential Election, the Brexit vote – these are all symptoms of a malcontent humanity. Rather than just read and write about the symptoms, we need to do something about it.
Yes, lots of people died this year. Maybe no more than normal but it seemed so due to their radiance and relevance in my generation’s lives. By the end of the year, we’re all looking for something brighter. After the election, a wretched, ebony pall had settled.
I think, personally, my largest changes were moving to a different state – literally – Colorado, turning off the fake news feeds and listening to what I needed to do to make my world a better place, finding what is important and significant on which I would spend my time. I didn’t make great strides but there is some hope. I always have hope. I’ve turned inward, more, to understand myself and my views, the things that pop into my head, and why, and how they go there – conditioning or what have you. I’m trying to drop the idea that I don’t have an opinion (I do) and realize that I’m not as well-educated as I could be (I know I don’t know a lot…) I’m learning to live with the idea of mortality (someday I will stop breathing… kind of freaky to think about) and wrinkly skin (oh, that’s not going to change no matter how much lotion I put on, will it?), with my struggles with eating and doing what’s best for my body, and with the idea that I should continue to strive each day for a little better…of something. Anything. It’s time to bring the pendulum to the far left and let it go again…
Is that it? Maybe for the next year the tenor is one of intense change: intense change for the nation and intense change for me. Maybe it’s time to overturn the apple cart, dump the status quo, disturb the natural order of things. Maybe it’s time to rip the Band-Aid off and let the air in, the waters of change wash over me, and let some healing happen. The box and view are wide. It’s only when we change our perspective and our location and our minds that we can see something else. We might be able to grasp a new wider reality that encompasses a wider world. If my vision is strong and far, perhaps I can affect that intense change necessary for real growth. It starts with me. That’s the only place it can start.
The world is a very big place and human history is only a short step on its long path.
Maybe this year, the tribe will be about that real change in a large swallow. Maybe the new life will start coming into being. I can only start here, and I need to start. I’ve had a year of reflection and resettling. It’s time to start to grow.