Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before:
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there;
Let them go to the fire, with never a look behind.
The world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.
– Robert Laurence Binyon, The Burning of The Leaves
Among the many features that define the strangeness of our species, there is one which seems obvious of our especial ability to be methodical, counted as one of the reasons that make us so successful in comparison to…well, we don’t quite know. That especial quality is the conjuring of special moments. If a lion knew (and as we know he already is taken to be quite proud) of his birthday, I don’t think he’d want to celebrate it. Bears hibernate during winter, which is obviously the cleverer and easier thing to do than what we do. We crave for pleasant surprises, happy accidents, but because we cannot predict their occurrence with any certainty, we make up our own special moments in advance. Forget the reasonably important ones like birthdays or New Year’s or even Valentine’s Day. Everyday of the year is a special day of some kind, from the serious Women’s Day to the ridiculous Talk Show Host Day. We are constantly working, and constantly celebrating. But, whether we go out with a bang or a whimper, why do we insist on thinking ourselves special while we thrive?
We are the proud creatures, not lions. We are the ones with hopes that are “rootless” and desires that bear no fruit. And even though we remind ourselves from time to time of this in this life of ours we take such glory in, we never seem to learn. I am not trying to sermonize. I am deeply, deeply hurt by the atrocities of earlier this week. The only responsibility that we humans take are for our achievements – in science, art, communication, prolonging life. We never claim responsibility for our acts of misplaced ego, making it instead a game of revenge, of anger, of ‘us and them’, of thinking we’re the good ones and they are the bad ones. As this year ends and we look back at what made it significant for the world, as well as look forward to what will make it significant for the year to come, isn’t it time we realize that this world we take to be ours was never, or at least no longer is, ours?
If this is how we choose to end this year, and look forward to the next, then let us not celebrate its glories. For, as everything is relative to something, humanity is alone, and cannot measure its glory against anyone else. There are no species, community or kind we can compete with. Our desires are only for the unseen and unknown, and yet we can’t help going after them. But, instead of basking in or wanting our glories, determination and confidence, maybe it is time to look at our weaknesses, and realize the value in them. If we can’t give peace a chance because it seems to be too vague and unreachable, let’s try humility first. Let us try to remember that it is not our achievements, our single-minded efforts or our determination to achieve that makes us special, or different from life around us. It is our ability to contain conflict, doubt and fear. It is our ability to question and think, for that is what prevents us from acting, and it’s time to realize it is good to be so. That confusion, mystery, not knowing the answers to the most serious choices is better than to go ahead and make the wrong one.
When I hear and see such things happen, I sometimes wish for that asteroid that might hit us to just come and do its job. Or maybe let the Large Hadron Collider create a black hole that sucks us all in. It isn’t a death wish at all. It is one for life, in which the human race can at least go out with some dignity. We define our humanity in terms of our ability to prolong life, for everything we do – our jobs, our families, our hobbies – are all acts of survival. But, it’s time we included survival at the expense of others into our definition of humanity as well. And maybe, that might help us understand it better. And make us cultivate what is good, than merely what is new.