Days Of Miracle And Wonder
I sometimes wonder at people. I wrote a few weeks back that few things are uninteresting to me. It’s true. Even the photo below is less frightening and more awe-inspiring to me:
I don’t quite get all the gloom-and-doom talk that abounds. Of course, it seems omnipresent. I’m reading a book right now, and one part of its argument is that, far from a time of optimism and promise, the Renaissance was a time of despair, reveling in nostalgia for a golden age that never was, and a stream of sermons, tracts, poems, and books on the endless sins of the age. It may have been an age of discovery and invention; it also brought us the slaughter of “witches” and heretics and Jews; a century of religious wars that killed as many people, especially in Central Europe, as had the plagues of the 14th century. Cruelty, sadism, a disdain for human life – that was as much a part of the Renaissance as Michelangelo and Leonardo.
We lament the violence and cruelty of the 20th century, and the fact that the 21 seems to be getting off to an even worse start. Civil wars, the return of international conflict, first in Africa, then in south eastern Europe, now between Russia and Ukraine; global warming and its damaging effects; international terrorism; the increasing divide between the extremely wealthy and rest of us, and the inability of our political system to deal with these most pressing issues.
Yet, for all that, what wondrous times in which to live! To see landscapes on other planets, even planets in other solar systems! To get glimpses of our own world, never before seen. To have the ability, including the technology, to understand more about our world than we ever have.
Along with that, despite economic inequality, the persistence of systemic racism and misogyny, we have still made great strides in the acceptance of The Other. Just consider the rapid change in public opinion concerning sexual minorities. Consider we have an African-American President who was elected twice. We have more women in positions of power and authority than ever before, not just here in the United States but around the world.
Our world has problems, social hardship, crime – although far less of it than two decades ago, and it continues to decrease, substance abuse. We have people willing to flaunt certain social mores; we even have the disappearance of other social mores, including unmarried cohabitation, single-parenthood, premarital sex, the consumption of light hallucinogens. Some of these changes are probably irreversible, others, being legal changes, are always subject at least to potential change. Yet, I for one, cannot escape the feeling that despite all our problems, there has never been a greater, more interesting time to be alive.
I’m quite sure mine is a minority opinion. That’s OK. It doesn’t diminish the wonder I feel at each new word of something new found, some new bit of information on our changing planet, the changing ways we understand our universe, and how human society acts and reacts to all these changes. I hold out little hope we will be able to stave off the worse effects of global climate change, if for no other reason than the human track record of responding to such events is piss-poor. Yet, I am not so pessimistic as to buy the worst-case scenarios (although we should always keep them in mind, because we could royally screw things up without even realizing it).
So, in general, I’m hopeful while also being realistic. I am happy to be alive at this moment in history, to see all the things we are learning, and wonder what it will mean for my grandchildren in the middle years of this century, and my great-grandchildren at the end. In some manner, fashion, or form, human life, human society, will endure. I’m quite sure that, as unrecognizable as our world would be to a time traveler from 1914, so, too, the world of 2114 will be nearly unintelligible to someone from our day who found themselves there.
I’m looking forward to these last decades of my life, to all we shall learn, to all it will mean for all of us here on this little rock orbiting the sun. Ours are awe-inspiring times, not times to despair or mourn for the loss of something we never had. Living with that understanding reminds me that human suffering goes hand in hand with human triumph. Always has, always will. Days of miracle and wonder, indeed.