A couple of months ago, I shared a bit of inspiration from this book I’ve been enjoying, Humankind: A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman. I was only on Chapter One at that point, and I predicted that I’d want to share more. I was right!
Chapter Two directly takes on the popular mythology of The Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s iconic 1951 tale about a group of schoolboys who find themselves on a deserted island and quickly descend into savagery and brutal self-interest. It’s a thrilling novel, and I remember liking a lot when I read it in junior high English class. The problem with it isn’t that it’s disturbing, which it is, but that readers and educators and sociologists ever since have tended to relate to it as a stunning exposé about human nature. Sure, it’s a story, but it’s also a deeply revealing look at our true selves. Right? Wrong.
The Lord of the Flies is pure fiction. And while I don’t want to smear William Golding unfairly, I think it’s relevant that he was something of a misanthropic, depressive alcoholic. I’m not knocking him for being who he was — some of my best friends are misanthropes — but it does seem that we might take his outlook with a big grain of salt rather than adopting it as a miserable confirmation of every crappy thing we think about humanity and using it as a key model with which we indoctrinate generations of adolescents.
Bregman seeks out, and ultimately finds, a beautiful counter-example. There is no historical basis whatsoever for Flies. However, fifteen years after that book was written, a group of boys from Tonga did find themselves shipwrecked on an island. And things turned out very, very differently. The 6 youths, ranging in age from 13-16, were stranded for over a year. During that time, they created a garden with a sophisticated rainwater-collection system, built a gymnasium and badminton court, developed mutually supportive ways of managing interpersonal disagreements, and practiced nightly rituals of song and prayer. All of this happened on a chunk of rock in the South Pacific which subsequent adventure-tourism companies have rejected for being utterly uninhabitable. It was a lot less like Lord of the Flies and much more like Gilligan’s Island. The boys have remained lifelong friends. It makes me misty re-reading the chapter and writing about it.
All of this is a long way of getting around to one of the things I want to write about today, which is my prayer:
I believe that together we entering into a renaissance of creativity and care. I believe that it is our fundamental human nature to celebrate Life and honor ourselves by taking care of each other. Doing so is our access to joy, inventiveness, fulfillment, and love. This is our purpose and there is nothing, really, to keep us from embodying and expressing it more completely every day. We’re going to burst forth from this year of isolation into a spirit of collaborative innovation like we’ve never known before.
So, that’s the one hand. On the other hand (you know there’s always at least one other hand) — I’m finding myself particularly susceptible to doubt, anxiety, and concern lately. Uncertain. Discomforted. This week’s ridiculous winds seemed a perfect illustration for the off-kilter feeling of things.
I mean, I know that we’re only just beginning to process the personal and collective traumas of the past year. I expect it’s going to take some time to get our grooves back. But I think there’s a slightly different aspect of this that’s only starting to happen now, as we begin to venture forth into the world again — as we start to talk about “re-opening,” and travel, and public gatherings…
As much as I’m looking forward to it all, I’m surprised to find myself experiencing quite a bit of trepidation. Not pure expansive relief — “finally, what we’ve all been waiting for!” — but a smidgen of tentative relief buffeted by a whole lot of worry. Like the groundhog hesitantly peeking out of his burrow ready to run back into hibernation at the first sight of his shadow. And I’m wondering: what the hell is wrong with me?
For every positive report about vaccine administration, I counter with concern about those who will not get vaccinated, for whatever reason, and mask-less hotspots, and people who are just plain being irresponsible jerks. For every hopeful plan I make, I spend a ton of time thinking of how “variants” might ruin everything, and how there’s still so much we don’t know, and how impatience might be the death of us all.
I’m saying that I do this, and I don’t mind being the example here, but it’s really not just me — it’s most people I talk to. It’s like the both/and of everything has gotten dialed up to eleven for all of us. It’s hard to be unequivocally happy or sad, or unequivocally anything. Every danged thing is equivocal.
As much as we’ve resented and bemoaned so much of the past year, maybe we’ve gotten comfortable and complacent in it? It’s amazing how quickly we get cozy with resentment and dissatisfaction.
And how quickly we forget that everything has been uncertain all along, long before COVID. The future has always contained variants and variables that have required us to be deft and adaptable. Our happy anticipations have always tended to get a little muffled with anxiety. One thing you can say about 2020 is that once we all finally made peace with the fact that it was going to suck, at least we no longer had to deal with the inevitable disappointment of getting our hopes up about anything. Womp womp.
Okay, so… I’m going to try to tie this together. None of what I’ve written this morning lines up at all with the six pages of notes I’d prepared, so I have no idea where this might all go by Saturday.
I’ve had the phrase “To and Fro” in my head. Back and forth. This way and that. And I guess that is what I’ve been writing about. This oscillating, on-the-other-hand, ambivalence that’s coloring our re-entry together. It’s probably informing a lot of everything else that we’ve got going on individually, too.
And here’s what I really want to say about all that (I think):
- It’s okay. We get to be riddled with contradiction. We’ve always been like this.
- We get to be creative in this complexity. In fact, it’s largely thanks to our ambivalence and uncertainty that we ever even bother to innovate and create. We get to be extraordinarily powerful as we declare and shape how it’s going to go, what’s going to come next. Indeed, there may be circumstances beyond our control and plenty that we can’t foresee yet. Nevertheless, we constantly are setting the course, and we are steering these ships, our lives.
- We navigate by course-correction. There always has been and always will be a lot of to and fro. Maybe what feels different now is that we’re being invited to develop and practice some new capacities. Some of the familiar strategies and tactics we’ve employed in the past aren’t taking us where we want to go right now, so let’s do it differently. How about more “fro” and less “to,” or vice versa? Maybe less “back” and more “forth,” or vice versa. Maybe “from” becomes “with,” and “do” becomes “be,” and the lions will lie down with the lambs…
That’s all a mouthful. And a brain-full. Thus, my befuddlement.
Join us online this weekend while we continue working it out. Music by Patty Stephens. Message by me. New content available by 6:00 pm Saturday at BOSQUECSL.ORG and VIMEO.COM/BOSQUECSL. I can’t wait to be with you. XO, Drew
©2021 Drew Groves