Three weeks ago, I had a bike crash I can’t remember. I’m finally able to walk and cough without too much pain, but other than some scrapes and bruises, I’m okay and grateful.
I’m mostly grateful that I don’t seem to have lasting brain damage (my concussion left me with no memory of the crash, ambulance trip, and most of the hospital). For the first week I could barely walk. Rolling over in bed was an ordeal. Thinking was slow. But the crash left me grateful that it wasn’t worse, and it reminded me of all the pains and worries our world endures. Injuries can lead to compassion.
A week later, while taking it easy, I got hooked into the Netflix series “Frontier.” It overly dramatizes the 17th Century fur trade of the Hudson Bay Company in what we now call Canada. Such corporations and companies were granted charters by European governments to monopolize resource extraction in the New World. It’s what governments and their armies largely enforce. Friendly and honorable relations often lost to “It’s just business.” Plus, all the guile, cruelty, and violence of the characters played out on top of the unmentioned pain inflicted on the beavers, bears, seals, and natives of a virgin land ripe for the raping.
The New World was a New Eden for Europeans to plunder. Environmental ethics seemed absent. The Johnny Appleseeds and John Muirs were oddballs out. Who could take the most the fastest were the winners of money, power, and prestige. Boatloads of furs were sent back to Europe to clothe the wealthy and adorn their vanity. Later, the plumage and bodies of birds brightened bonnets and stuffed the bellies of consumers. Both the Carolina Parakeet (the only parrot natural to North America) and Carrier Pigeons (that once filled the skies) were killed to extinction – gone. The bison almost did too, a way to profit from their pelts while driving Natives into starvation. A pile of their skulls marks our success. Or is it shame?
A lot of the New World’s Eden has been exploited unto exhaustion. What seemed endless forests were once a challenge for hard-working lumbermen. Now, machines can easily hack off the few that remain here, financing the same plunder in Indonesia and Africa. The oceans and streams teemed with fish. Now they’re not only overfished, they’re injured with heat and poisons. The conservation efforts of Muir and Teddy Roosevelt (remember when conservatives conserved?) kept precious but precarious islands of life amid the rampant taking.
On top of this plundering of Eden is the wasting of the time, health, spirits, and comity of we humans. Slavery that made many work for the benefit of the few continues in barely muted form. Unions tried to seek economic justice, but they’re passé now, domestically and world-wide. To the amorality of the market, labor is to be exploited as much as the environment. Armies continue to enforce the taking of the corporations.
All this during the gloating of our sleezy, idiot president as he serves those corporations profiting from the agony they’re creating for humanity and earth’s life. The oil companies knew about global warming in the 1970s but started lying about it during the Reagan 80s. Millions will have to move away from the oceans – which are also dying of heat, pollution and overfishing. There are profits to be made and jobs to be had galore in armaments, prisons, and as ICE agents or as Blackwater-like mercenaries. Israel’s Netanyahu kisses Trump as his soldiers maim protestors by the hundreds. (Yet to object gets scorned with Red Herring “arguments” of anti-Semitism.) Trump seems hell-bent on fomenting war on the Palestinians, Iranians, and the Venezuelans. It’s good for he and his; not so much for them. He doesn’t mind if a journalist was hacked apart as he and his son-in-law cozy up to the new strongman murderer in Saudi Arabia, nor that the 34th lawyer working for justice for poor people in the Philippines has also been murdered. Trump and his buddy Bannon are rousing up the rabble; fascists flourish worldwide and here. Malicious takers rush a vast crash.
All the beauty and bounty of a New World Eden is put to profits and macho posturing. Any vision of a happy healthy humanity is tragically lost in a media dedicated to schlock, consumerism, and violent entertainment. Of the religious, only Pope Francis seems to address the paired causes of the poor and our environment. Trump and his rah-rah supporters exemplify what I find egregious about America. They’re deplorable, and they’re defensive about that word because it’s obvious.
Yet my compassion can extend to them too. They were hoodwinked by a con man promising to address their needs and “drain the swamp” of a dysfunctional system. Dysfunctional it is, but he has stocked the swamp with even worse creatures. Our skies, waters, soil, and spirits are under attack by a government beholden to transnational corporations while imposing a shallow, punitive morality into our very bodies. Yet his base “base” cheers.
There’s some pleasure in irate anger, even if that is for a new Mussolini. (We’ve seen how well that goes, yet we’re repeating it.) There’s fun in group rallies mad at such nebulous reasons as “regulations” and “taxes.” They won’t realize the drawbacks of lead in their bodies and social security not in their future till later. The belligerence of the Tea Party and the NRA feels righteous till it leads to an utterly needless new Civil War. (We’ve seen how well that goes, yet we’re repeating it, a sure tragedy for all involved.)
Meanwhile Eden isn’t dead. Were we to love Creation as much as we claim to love the Creator we could rescue and revive it. Perhaps in the long run we will help it become even more abundant and beautiful than it ever was. Right now, there are those running their homes and cars on clean, renewable sunshine. This and things like it are good now and getting better; they could be far more widespread. Every political, economic, technological, social, and spiritual system we now use could be improved for us and our future. If we had the will we would find the way. Yet, we’re so inundated with divisive competition, injury, and fear we’ve lost a hopeful vision.
Or have we? My little bike crash reminded me how glad I am to be alive, capable of thinking and dancing. I wake thanking God for a new day, looking for ways to return the favor. My crash reminded me of the far greater suffering too many endure in too many settings, so again I pray, “May all beings in all realms be free of pain and suffering.”
My little crash is meager compared to what humanity and earthlife is enduring. The world is one, and whether we like it or not, we are one. We all breathe air in a singular precious and precarious thin band of life hugging a ball of rock floating in a vast and perhaps indifferent universe. Suddenly, we have discovered how old is evolution and how young is our knowledge of it. We have breath, mind and music betwixt the extremes of ice and fire. Our New World could rescue and redeem Earth’s Eden.
We’re crashed and hurting, but all is not lost. Our worries and woes can open our compassion and creativity. If we were to love America and Eden as we could and should, we would go on grateful and even proud. “Make America Great Again”? No! No! Not in that fallen way! Make America Great.
I’ll be speaking three times in April. I’ll be presenting “Thomas Jefferson Then and Now” at the UU Fellowship in McMinnville, OR, Sunday, April 7th, at 10:30 AM and a week later for the Jefferson Society in Ashland, Oregon, 4 PM on the 14th at the Community Center. I’ll be returning to the UU McMinnville Fellowship on Easter, April 21st, again at 10:30 AM, speaking on “Jesus Then and Now.” Please let others know if they’d be interested.