Celebrating Life Is Worth the Fight
“I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament. Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth….
“Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal. As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat? As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him!”
The above parable is quite ancient; this specific version is attributed to Haim of Romshishok.
Of all the years I have welcomed with family and friends, this one is being greeted with more trepidation, more cynicism, than ever. True, in 2012 colonial powers including the United States, France, and Holland, expanded their reach into Africa and continued their saber rattling against Iran. Israel ruthlessly bombed Gaza and uprooted more olive trees and Palestinians. Weapons sales tripled in one year. By the United Nations’ own admission, its Climate Change Conference in Doha was a bust. The combustion of fossil fuels by humans added yet more CO2 to the mass already collecting the sun’s warmth into the atmosphere and continues to raise the Earth’s surface temperature. Cyclones spun through regions including the Caribbean, North America, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Fiji Islands, creating yet more climate refugees. Today alone, wildfires rage in Bulgaria, Canada, Lebanon, Russia, Spain, and the United States (Oregon, Minnesota, California, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Tennessee, North Dakota, Washington State). As if to confirm our full return to a Dark-Age mentality, Al Qaeda is being blamed for Europe’s wildfires, and women are being sacrificed in India.
The people have also resisted. Because of unrelenting public pressure from groups such as Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo), the Argentinian government has systematically tried and convicted the criminals from its dictatorship, and the truth telling continues. The Taliban has all but formally reclaimed Afghanistan. Chinese fishing folk in Wukan have fought for and won the right to administer their own village. Throughout Latin America, villagers have pushed back the mining companies with the anthem “El agua vale más que el oro” (Water is more precious than gold). Every day, Haitians and Dominicans resist the multinational collaboration to grab and pollute the island and turn us into wage slaves, and every day, we die in this resistance. Despite the foreign occupation of Haiti, throughout the world we are greeting this new year with another bottomless pot of pumpkin soup (soup joumou) to commemorate our Independence Day in 1804. When we say “Happy New Year!” We mean it. There have been darker times in our history.
“Why fight?” Some ask, when we have probably passed the tipping point in climate change, and human civilization has less than 30 years left to it. “Why not go down with a bang?” One might as well ask: Why live the best lives we can, although we will all die? Why not live a life of unremitted greed or jump off a bridge? But on accepting the human condition, we also discover that there is pleasure in cherishing what we cannot possess. Even if, as a species, we cannot rescue ourselves from previous imbecilities, we must ponder whether we want humanity to end in a mad stampede in which the strong trample the weak, or a gentle, dignified caring for each other? Life is not merely a one-way decline to our deaths, but a great adventure: an infinitely branching trajectory that is enriched by our myriad connections to the other beings who share this planet. Not only the other humans, but also the toads, bats, bees, birds, butterflies, dolphins, whales, snakes, etc., who have a great deal more to teach us than we care to admit. If we must have a goal in life, then let this be the celebration of our neighbors’ happiness. Let this be the rescue of our human brothers and sisters from wage slavery so that they might pause now and then to tell each other a story, or to follow the flight of a dragonfly. Let this be the exuberance of a school of spinning dolphins, or a spiraling sedge of the cranes. When our neighbors are consumed with suffering, we die with them, but when they are allowed to live joyfully, we may dance and dine with them. Let us extend our spoons. Bon appetit and Happy New Year!