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My Turn: Standing at a turning point, thankful and hopeful

  • A lion and a lamb together in a carving by a Palestinian artist. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 11/26/2020 6:20:17 AM

President-elect Joe Biden said in a recent speech, “Our nation has arrived at an inflection point.” This point rests on the peak of a vista showing two different directions for America’s future.

One view shows increasingly divided people, declining truth-telling, collapsing trust, continued racism, environmental degradation, rule by force, and abandonment of people lacking the basics of food, shelter, and health care.

This direction is sustained by autocratic leaders and their followers committed to maintaining a system of power by any means. They seek to be unmitigated winners at the expense of unwelcomed “losers.”

However, an inflection point exposes a time ripe for a change in direction. The experience of COVID-19 and violent police actions toward people of color and protesters has exposed the broken system of government and society. This awareness may be the motivation to turn toward cooperation among people, care for neighbor, and freedom and equality for all people.

It is not an easy task, living among a population adamantly divided between choosing forceful domination or seeking cooperation as a means of survival.

This struggle is not unlike my observations of the bifurcated natural environment.

At first, I notice the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures of the countryside and wilderness places. They awaken my awareness and stimulate my imagination.

When I walk among the trees, they give me cool shade from the hot sun and shelter from rain and snow. I inhale the oxygen that the trees exhale and the trees inhale the CO2 that I exhale. I imagine the gift of life passing back and forth between me and the trees of the forest.

I imagine I’m a part of the ground beneath my feet with its gift of support. I ponder the ways knowledge of this habitat of cooperation might influence relationships among human beings. It is humbling to be included in this beautiful, serene, magnificent creation.

However, it does not take long in the wilderness for another side of nature to make me disturbingly uneasy.

I’ve heard the night scream of a rabbit attacked by coyotes. I’ve seen a hungry hawk circling while squirrels run for cover. I’ve observed a stand of dead pine trees smothered by blight. I’ve experienced the sting of a bee, the prick of a mosquito. I’ve come face to face with a bear. I’ve felt the pelting of biting freezing hail, and the burn of the sun with its presage of skin carcinogens.

It seems humanity is also a part of the body and spirit of flora and fauna committed to violent coercive unrelenting power for survival.

History and literature tell of humanity’s struggle over the centuries to live with these two conflicting realities of violence and cooperation. The apparent inevitability of violent forces deeply enmeshed in nature and in human relationships can be disturbing. There is far more violence in our national heritage than our national self-image admits.

But this unease with a heritage of violence may lead to an exploration of humankind’s purpose and place on earth.

Ulla Berkewicz has written: “Many areas of the human brain are not used, which points to the fact that our evolution is based on a long-term plan, the fulfillment of which lies far ahead of us.”

Perhaps this gradual transformation of the human mind is becoming capable of perceiving a path forward from today’s inflection point. Perhaps the purpose of humanity is to bend the future away from the penchant for violence toward cooperation and love.

On my bookcase I have a wood carving of a lion lying down with a lamb. It illustrates an ancient yearning of humanity to live in a world free from aggression and filled with love and nurture. The poignancy of this carving is augmented with the knowledge it was carved by a Palestinian.

You see, the Israeli separation wall and the power of the Israeli military severely restrict access to his Palestinian shop in Bethlehem where he displays his art and depends on the sale of his carvings for his livelihood. He lives at an inflection point between forced subjugation and the possibility of equality and love of neighbor. His experience of never-ending oppression motivates him to carve the vision of a different future life. His humanity gives him the ability to imagine a turn of nature toward cooperation and equality.

Yes, there have always been wars and rumors of wars. There are oppressors and bullies in every generation. But also, there has always been empathy, love, and a penchant for imagining a different future. Some of our cues may come from the natural environment with its gifts of support, healing, beauty, and renewal. Some will come from our imagination.

Using skills of art, poetry, music, and memory, the minds of humans may blaze a path toward hospitality, cooperation, love, and peace with justice. Our nation is at the inflection point to make the choice and set the course for the future life of humanity and the earth.

In this season of Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day, I give thanks for the ability of the human mind to learn from the past and contemplate possible futures. I give thanks for living in a nation that has arrived at a liberating inflection point with two future paths from which to choose. I give thanks for minds with the growing wisdom to know the difference between the two paths. And I give thanks for the capacity of humanity to step forward and lead into a future of cooperation and equality, freedom and justice for all.

(John Buttrick can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com.)




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