Tragedy and Transcendence

James speaks with the voice of a poet, in his April 24 comment, responding to my last week’s post.
His closing paragraph:

So, how do we find our way, as individuals and as a species, between fully acknowledging the great losses that have taken place and will take place, working toward a better world as best we can, and recognizing our humble and temporary place in the whole grand scheme?

As long as you promise not to take me too seriously, I’ll try my answer to James’ question.

Something Big is going on.
Pierre Teilhard calls it “complexification.
Just as I am skeptical about the cosmological “Big Bang” as an extrapolation into our past, I’m skeptical about Teilhard’s Omega Point as our extrapolated future, but I think he has properly observed a process clearly active within Gaia. For instance, there were several phases of large dinosaurs, with herbivores and carnivores in each phase. There seem to me remarkable parallels between the big plant-eaters of the earlier ages and the big plant-eaters of the later ones (four big tree-like legs, for instance). Likewise, with the carnivorous dinosaurs (rear legs more powerful than the front ones).

AND, along with the similarities across the ages,
it seems to me the beings of the earlier ages were more basic and simpler, while those in latter ages are “finer,” more nuanced, less crude.

It’s as if Gaia had given these creatures a good first try, then had improved the newer models, having learned some things from the early experiences.

Something Big is going on.
And mammals! This whole coat of hair thing. And bearing our young live, rather than hatching them! Teilhard, and other paleontologists, could see life growing in subtlety and sophistication over the millions of years of the fossil record.

So, how do we find our way, as individuals and as a species, between fully acknowledging the great losses that have taken place and will take place, working toward a better world as best we can, and recognizing our humble and temporary place in the whole grand scheme?

(.: What might my mere words offer to the scope of all of this?
.: Metaphor.
.: Some orientation for the verbal parts of our selves.)

“We are part of the Dance,”
The Great Process of Gaia.
We are Gaia,

Not “then.”
And also not in James’
“…point where earth is done with us as a species.”

this few million years.
And, in my humble opinion,
During “our time” something important is going on with consciousness.
Self Awareness.

Before “now,”
many animals on the African savannahs were aware of a world teeming with opportunities and dangers.
They were also aware of themselves as individuals. Parts itched. Parts didn’t work the way they used to, perhaps due to trauma or age.
But for some of those animals, awareness folded back upon itself,
opening self-awareness.
And a sense of self.
And selves.

(Bet it was related to the development of language.)

And in the “now” of me and you,
the time since the end of World War Two,
During “our time”
another something important is going on with consciousness.
Self-awareness, not only on the individual levels,
but as a planet.

If maize-blight is widespread on the South American harvests,
North American farmers order more corn seed for planting than in years when the South American harvest is good.
And if other human or natural catastrophes strike a region, likewise, the ripples are world-wide:
Armies on alert?
More money to the Red Crescent?
American volunteers knitting thousands of sweaters for oil-soaked penguins?
A global knowing.

So, how do we … work… toward a better world as best we can, and recognizing our humble and temporary place in the whole grand scheme?

In James’ final paragraph, he’s not asking about the whole big picture. He’s asking about us. How are we supposed to relate to all of this: individual death, species death and a good life for those we love, all at the same time?

What I am offering, as Gaia Troubadour, is a replacement for the tribal unit that humans are hard-wired to look for and identify with.
Lady Gaia has been knitting into our awareness the idea of using Her Majesty as our frame of reference as we make choices.
As we do this, human life will remain human life, with its tragedies, whose emotional impact should accepted, not avoided.
Still, if we see ourselves as expressions of a planetary life-force,
that context can be orienting
as we make choices,
and can be a solace
when the results of those choices have negative personal consequences.

For instance, the most vivid experience of parenting I have is of watching my mother do her best with me.
I can put myself in her shoes and imagine that I have a rambunctious little boy who wants to explore everything. He does not have a very well-developed sense of distance, speed or inertia, and he has a poor sense of his own limits. Still, for where he is on the learning curve, he is remarkably skillful (or blessed) when it comes to navigating the world, and he is proud of it. I have done my best to give him a forgiving environment, getting a house on a secluded street, for instance. There is a river, across the street and down the hill, and he is fascinated with it. Our interactions around how he plays near and in the river have made me a virtuoso at estimating my own fears, his skills, the rashness of his playmates and the most dangerous features of his environment, like the ruined foot bridge stretching 40 feet above the creek’s mouth. He and I have danced through the range of parent-child relationships around what he is allowed to do and how many hours at a time he is allowed to be out of my sight. I know if I underestimate his genuine abilities (this year) and I unjustly forbid him something within his competence, he will write me off and I will be dealing (again) with outright disobedience or corrosive resentment. I have learned to listen to his adventures when he gets home, without expletives, and to make my own judgments about his reality, out there, based on what he tells me. Then, periodically, we negotiate an expansion of his limits.
It’s a dicey business. I don’t fully trust either him or me, and of course completely unforeseen accidents also happen. Like falling on a perfectly-known path, and poking his eye out on a broken-off sapling.
I know that, statistically, if there are a thousand parents in my situation, one of us is going to have a bad experience. Let’s say it’s me. Let’s say my son drowns today. Not in circumstances where I would be considered negligent, legally. A simple drowning, through innocent horseplay, or a boyish miscalculation on his part.
“It happens.”
“One chance in a thousand.”

This is a tragedy.
It is properly a loss that will mark me and the rest of my family for a lifetime. An extended period of grief is completely understandable and a partial neglect of some of my other responsibilities is forgivable.
And then there are my doubts about my own culpability. I am implicated. I was not perfect. Because of a misunderstanding yesterday and some time-pressures this morning, I did not focus quite as directly as usual on burdening my son with my adult perspective, which he had learned to carry with him, albeit grudgingly.
Would it have made a difference? No reason to expect so, but it’s an area of weakness that is an entry point for self blame.
How am I going to live, with him gone?
Live with myself? With my other children?
This will be a year of agony, just for starters.
And a tragedy that will leave marks that may be traced for generations.
I accept this.
I do not counsel against feeling the loss.
I do not try to minimize it’s significance.
If I believe my child was and is in God’s care, there is a solace in it. He is gone now, and a billion possibilities are foreclosed, but if I understand his life in a context that preceded his birth and carries on after his death, that makes it easier.
Having a “cosmic” or “planetary” or at least “tribal” or “family” context for loss (or joy) is helpful for human beings.
Throughout history, all over the globe,
we insist on it.

And if I cannot believe in God?
Either because I find the stories I’ve been told unbelievable, or because I fear falling into the tribal wars I see waged all around, in the name of religion?

Am I on my own then, with my grief?
An existentialist staring in cold affirmation at a reality that cares not a whit for my sense of loss?
And not just a SENSE of loss. A genuine loss, dammit, perhaps not on a cosmic scale, but a death of meaning, none-the-less. A death of REAL things. And of realities that might have been.

The Gaia Troubadour says,
Just because humans have the ability to see the universe from a point of view that is devoid of human meaning does not mean the universe is devoid of human meaning.

And here I turn to the concept of co-creation.
“We” and “Gaia” co-create “our” reality of her, who she is to us,
We co-create “What it all means.”
Not a creation “out of whole cloth.”
We are doing more than producing figments from our imaginations.
But we must be active in the making of our meaning. The transcendent immensity of
“something Big going on”
must necessarily be represented to humans in human terms.
That’s what humans do.
As best we can,
and will continue to,
expressing our best (largest, most whole-body) understanding
of the immensity
of which we are a part.

So, how do we find our way, as individuals and as a species, between fully acknowledging the great losses that have taken place and will take place, working toward a better world as best we can, and recognizing our humble and temporary place in the whole grand scheme?

We make the road by going.
Not like power-line cuts, going in a straight line, with no sensitivity to the contours of the underlying geography.
We make our way, feeling along an underlying reality, some of it material, much of it not.
We make our way, putting our sense of things in human terms when we can, and using that to shore up the best of our humanity.

And, when satisfactory meaning in human terms does not present itself,
the larger planetary context out of which we arise.

It helps.


P.S. We can nurture and cultivate this mindset.
A mindset of fostering self and ‘family,’ which simultaneously accepts that Gaia’s priorities may work against our personal selves.
“loyalty to the group,
being brave in the face of risks,
while being ready to accept personal tragedy in the service of the larger effort”
is sometimes called “the mind of a warrior.”
It is also close to my thinking about mychrist.

About Richard O Fuller

Quaker, living in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.
This entry was posted in About Richard, Mammalian. Bookmark the permalink.

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