Civilizations and Change (written 2008/2015)
When civilizations begin to crumble do the people notice? Do they say: “This is the end of this life? I am living at a turning point in history” Or do they just go on, incorporating change as it impacts them, just living? I'm thinking about these things these days as the political and economic upheaval of the world begins to mirror the environmental mess we've created. We live in “garbage” of all kinds. And it's been so a long while.
It is only that BIG EVENTS now bring it to our attention. The first black American president. The great mess of the American economy he comes to after the Wall street collapse. Our minority government and the political games that the other parties play now with their “alliance “ discussions. Terrorism coming to the fore again in relatively stable countries...the recent precision attacks in India. Then there is the economic downturn here. The fall in gasoline and real estate prices after the highest prices ever and a greedy market. The world turns. Weather patterns change. We have winter rain and little snow. Mild day temperatures and treacherous ice. Or is it only that all of this is symptomatic of the changes always happening? And that we only see patterns from our human perspective, our desire to control and understand. What is that saying about history being stories chosen, composed, created in the telling?
Running across the entry above in an old journal gave me pause. Seven years later. Another economic downturn. Different acts of terrorism. Different government games and quandaries. Different worrisome world events. Same sense of momentous change and perhaps inevitable disaster. At least media would have us think so. Our own fears making us willing to listen and nod.
This must have been so in the final days of the Roman Empire. In the lives of First Nations people facing new epidemics of physical illness and foreign values. In the lives of peasant farmers driven to the cities in the Industrial Revolution by the slow tide of change. In the lives of those in the Great Depression unable to find work, watching crops fail.
Sometimes changes are momentous and sudden. A bomb. A hurricane. A tsunami. Sometimes they are creeping and insidious. An infection. Climate change. Resources disappearing. Always they are mysterious and frightening and seem to be, with hindsight, avoidable. We tie ourselves in knots trying to undo what has been done. To return to “the way things were”.
Yet in the world, still and always, incredible acts of courage and kindness. Not just those that make the news...the rescues, the volunteers, the fund raisers, the interfaith events, the helping hands and willing hearts. In every day there is evidence of kindness and goodwill: A neighbor clearing another's driveway. A clerk taking time to answer questions, smiling and connecting with a customer. The driver who lets someone into a steady flow of traffic. Meals provided for those in need. Food gathered at local shops for the food bank. Accounts opened for families facing loss or illness. The stranger who holds a door open for someone whose arms are full. A young man who stands on a bus to let someone less able sit. A friend taking time to listen to another who is having a bad day. Generous tipping of low wage earners. This list could go for pages.
I have been a writer for many years. And my reflex is to weave a story. To pick and choose and find a plot, a pattern. Yet, life can only be lived in this moment. The stories will be told in some future time of what it was like to live now, how we came to this, the causes and then the new directions that were found. For those of us living now in the midst of it, there is only one useful approach. To do the best we can with each moment as it passes. To add to the goodness and the kindness, not the fear and the destruction. Let us choose in each moment to do no harm.