There is a story, an old indigenous story, that goes like this.
Once, all the creatures in the world, gathered in a great council to clarify the jobs they each perform in the service of Creation. One by one, they step forward. The beaver is here to look after the wetlands and to monitor how the streams flow. The worm is here to burrow through the earth so that the roots of plants may find air and nutrients. The deer is here to slip through the woodlands, to watch what is happening.
The council is progressing well — but one poor creature stands away from the fire, in the shadows, uncertain of its role. This is the human. At last, this being steps forward, and haltingly addresses the assembly, “We are confused. What is the purpose of human beings?” The animals and the plants, the insects and the trees — all are surprised. They laugh, but then the laughter gives way to stunned silence. “Don’t you know? It’s so obvious!!” “No,” replied the human, “we need you to tell us.” And the other creatures of the world all responded,
“Your purpose is to glory in it all. Your job is to praise Creation.”
(pg. 96 from Embracing Life)
I am overwhelmed with awe and unknowing. I know, from my stroke experience, that there is no going back. The world is changing. I marvel at how quickly, and efficiently, the Corona virus is unraveling everything. Staying in my home is re-assuring. Even as a shut-in, I take only a small measure of pleasure knowing that others are experiencing some of what I have known. Instead, I am drowning in a lonely uncertainty. Daily, I am assailed with images of death and human misery. It all fills me with a strange wonder. I am alive and vulnerable as never before.
I had the flu last week. I was really sick, afraid that maybe I had somehow contracted the virus. It was a different virus, and after wrecking me, it passed. For a time, I was desperately ill. Enough so, my loneliness and energy-less-ness, had me contemplating, even inviting, death. I was, for a moment, in pain and beyond my aspirations for life.
As an old person, someone who has been anticipating collapse for a long time, I feel, as I watch, things like the markets dissolving, hoarding, and the disbelief of some, a surreal sense of satisfaction. Proving, I guess, how utterly human and insensitive I can be. The years of wondering how it was all going to come down have taken a toll on my compassion. Now, I am mainly grateful I had the time to attain my wrinkles, and to know the perspective that is currently shaping my suffering. I see too much.
The story of humanity’s role, the high privilege that has been granted to us, to have the wherewithal to praise creation, has been with me for a long time. It haunts me now. Does glorying in it all, praising Creation, also mean praising creative destruction?
Unknowingness bids me to consider it. I chafe at the idea. I’m not ready to face that much reality. But, I know this is a time, like during my stroke era, when something else ultimately determines what I must face. I have often said that I am “Lucky” because I didn’t get to choose, Life instead determined the way for me. I think something like that is happening now. The virus is Life altering us forever.
I take some solace from the idea that Life might be shepherding us (humankind) through a necessarily narrow initiation. Of course, I don’t know. That is what makes this such an awesome time. Maybe, I have to steep in unknowing to become capable.
In the meantime, I am witnessing something so huge that it grinds me into the nothingness I am. Now, I understand the bearing in bearing witness. It isn’t just bearing a weight, it is feeling open heart surgery, as the patient without anesthesia.
Pain and unknowing are essential parts of the surgery.
May we bear what we must, and become what is necessary.