Saturday, June 03, 2006

Unbroken Chains of Life

My husband and I took our children to a Scottish festival today. I used to go to such festivals when I was a child, because my father is of Scottish descent - a Watt of the Buchanan clan, hailing from near Loch Lomond. In fact, my sister gave my father a book by James Webb, all about why the Scots-Irish Americans are such a militant, aggressive and patriotic people. My father loaned the book to me, and I was somewhat disgruntled at the suggestion that to think about the people killed in war, and therefore oppose violence and war, is not only perceived as un-American, wussy, naive, traitorious, etc., but is even a betrayal of my cultural heritage. On the other hand, James Webb has since decided that perhaps the Iraq War was a mistake, and is running for U.S. Senate in Virginia.

Anyway, walking around a muddy field in the rain, seeing the kilts, hearing the bagpipes and drums, watching the men toss the caber, and touching the wool of the clan plaid again was very evocative for me - of distant ancestors in rocky, boggy places, of connection.

I think especially of the women, women giving birth to babies in those rocky, boggy places, although my mind generally wanders first through my Dutch mother's mother's mother: Elizabeth Tijsseling, who bore Gerda Overbeek, mother of Beatrix, mother of Katherine, mother of my two children. What always fascinates me is that there is an unbroken line between me and the very first humans. If any one of those people had died before having children, I would not exist at all. Annie Dillard has written of this, of the terrible odds against any of us actually being here, and yet here we are.

I told my husband about these thoughts while we drove on to pick strawberries - canning season has begun! And he told me he often finds himself thinking about the conservation of matter: that because all the atoms that were in the universe at the Big Bang beginning are still the same atoms, just rearranged all the time, he, and I, and our kids, and everyone else are completely made up of stuff that is billions of years old and will never be destroyed.

Sometimes these thoughts lead me into musing about Einstein's relativity, the expansion of the universe, and the strange possibility that the universe will someday reach the end of its expansion, begin to contract, and time will go backwards: we'll all live our lives over again, starting from being old and getting younger all the time. But maybe that's what we already do, without knowing it.

What if the Gaia Hypothesis is super-cosmic, and, in the same way all the women in human history have birthed all the people in human history through our expanding and contracting wombs, and all the people's movements of human history have been trying to make new societal structures through sweat, and tears, and patient endurance, what if the universe is birthing some new baby universe too? It pops up everywhere, this paradoxical theme, not either-or, not subject-object: both.

Barry Lopez was the interviewee in The Sun magazine http://www.thesunmagazine.org/ this month. He talked about his work as "literature of hope."

"I'm not optimistic. Optimism for me is about examining the evidence on the table, and the evidence on the table is bad. The way we are conducting ourselves in a world with limited supplies of fresh water is bad. No federal initiatives to address global warming; heavy metals pollution; corporate avarice? Bad. The degree to which we are dependent on prescription drugs as a culture? Bad. So: optimistic, no.

Hopeful, yes. The reason is the staggering power of the human imagination to circumvent every kind of roadblock. So when I say a 'literature of hope,' I mean a literature that gives readers the opportunity to be hopeful about their own circumstances and the circumstances of their communities. And if we encourage this sense of hope, people will exercise their imaginations in ways we could not have foreseen, and that will be our blessing and our release from pessimism. Somebody will see a different way to do things..."


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