Earth Rise

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I reckon it all comes down to where you stand and one blessing of growing old – there are things to look forward to, kids, so hang around! – is what Philip Larkin called ‘the long perspectives’. TS Eliot said that ‘humankind cannot bear very much reality’ but I subscribe more to the Keats view of life as a process of soul-making, which I think means developing the sensitivity and courage to see what’s really there.

A good friend of mine suffered from depression. He once told me that he started feeling better when he stopped focusing on the differences between himself and others and began to understand that everybody was just the same. This discovery is at the heart of one of my favourite poems from another person prone to melancholy:

 

His Country   by Thomas Hardy

I journeyed from my native spot
Across the south sea shine,
And found that people in hall and cot
Laboured and suffered each his lot
Even as I did mine.

Thus noting them in meads and marts
It did not seem to me
That my dear country with its hearts,
Minds, yearnings, worse and better parts
Had ended with the sea.

I further and further went anon,
As such I still surveyed,
And further yet – yea, on and on,
And all the men I looked upon
Had heart-strings fellow-made.

I traced the whole terrestrial round,
Homing the other side;
Then said I, “What is there to bound
My denizenship? It seems I have found
Its scope to be world-wide.”

I asked me: “Whom have I to fight,
And whom have I to dare,
And whom to weaken, crush, and blight?
My country seems to have kept in sight
On my way everywhere.”

 

The same simple yet profound insight inspires Sting’s song ‘Russians’, which ends with these words:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too

It strikes me that the way to resolve our differences is to search for common ground and focus on what we share. Ordinary people the world over cherish the common decencies – a belief in fairness, generosity and mutual respect amounting to a faith in the power of love. This is no surprise given that we are all descended from the same genetic stock. Put simply – and setting aside any distractions of race and nation – we all share the same mother. And now worldwide communication gives us a chance to deepen our familial bonds by evolving a common culture based on the best of our shared past.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. We need imagination to break the straitjacket of stereotype before we can make common cause with strangers who have grown up in different cultures. Dreams and the world of the imagination offer us a key to unlock our prison of alienation, or otherness, as the following poem suggests:

 

Through Nightmare   by Robert Graves

Never be disenchanted of
That place you sometimes dream yourself into,
Lying at large remove beyond all dream,
Or those you find there, though but seldom
In their company seated –

The untameable, the live, the gentle.
Have you not known them? Whom? They carry
Time looped so river-wise about their house
There’s no way in by history’s road
To name or number them.

In your sleepy eyes I read the journey
Of which disjointedly you tell; which stirs
My loving admiration, that you should travel
Through nightmare to a lost and moated land
Who are timorous by nature.

 

Understanding other cultures is no easier than grasping the life experience of our ancestors, but I reckon that making the effort to do both creates a strong bridge between people. History, despite what Henry Ford said, is not bunk. Take the long perspectives and shallow differences fade into deeper similarities. Space and time are one, says Einstein, when everything is relative. And science tells us we are all related. We share a sense of wonder for the natural world of which we are an instinctive part, as this poem shows:

 

from More Poems   by AE Housman

XIII

I lay me down and slumber
And every morn revive.
Whose is the night-long breathing
That keeps me man alive?

When I was off to dreamland
And left my limbs forgot,
Who stayed at home to mind them,
And breathed when I did not?

…………………………

– I waste my time in talking,
No heed at all takes he,
My kind and foolish comrade
That breathes all night for me.

 

I’ve always wondered what the missing third verse contained. Did Housman want out of his blind craving for life? Perhaps he’d stopped seeing himself as a work in progress, though he does seem grateful to his unseen alter-ego for ploughing on regardless. Jung felt we shared ‘a collective unconscious’, which modern science might interpret as our genetic heritage. And to quote the late Paul Kantner, we are – for good or ill – The Crown of Creation.

Let our reign do us honour, I say …  which it still may, if we ever learn to sing with one voice – Wordsworth’s ‘still, sad music of humanity’, perhaps. So in the spirit of peace and reconciliation I offer my own humble contribution to the book of common prayer:

Our ancestors

Who live within us,

We salute you!

May your goodness bear fruit

And your dreams come true

In the light of this new day.

You gave us the power

To learn from our mistakes,

As we let others learn from theirs.

May we build upon your example,

For your ways are our ways now

To pass on to future generations.

So be it always.

Sunrise-landscape-render-retouches

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15 thoughts on “Earth Rise

  1. Nicely put together piece. We all have much more in common than our leaders make out. They thrive on division. Being happy and contented within yourself is a great way to be and so hard to get to.
    Cheers Dave.
    PS – lovely sunrise to end!

    1. I really appreciate your comments, Opher. I know we share a faith in human potential, tinged with unease about our ability to screw up! If we need saints, let them be as fallibly human as John Lennon to show we are all capable of greatness …

  2. Lovely piece – oh for some lovely peace too!

    I agree that our leaders thrive on division, they also make money out of it. It’s interesting that our politicians are proposing to aid war-driven displaced individuals with a fraction of the sum currently being used to create them in the first place.

    Hardy’s “had heart strings fellow made” sums up the commonality of humans for me and chimes with my personal, anecdotal experience.

    Keep up the good work Dave, “when will they ever learn?”

    1. Thanks, Mike! If only we had a magic wand … the forces of cynical corruption threaten to overwhelm our humanity, alas! The outcome will be a close-run thing but I’d still put my money on those heart strings making sweet music together. https://youtu.be/0LZ2R2zW2Yc still remains an unanswered question, but we are built to solve mysteries.

  3. Well said Dave. My own feelings are that humanity’s survival depends upon our ability to overcome our differences. And while we may wish to blame our leaders, we all have responsibility for bringing about change. Individuals can and do make a difference. –Curt

    1. Absolutely, Curt! Leaders need our support, in a democracy at least, to achieve anything. And if we are to avoid fundamentalism, the majority need to reach agreement over the fundamentals – issues of liberty, equality and solidarity which are not always easy to reconcile. We need our best brains on this, not always the case unfortunately!

      1. Part of the problem is in the insanity of the election process, at least here in America. It cost millions to get elected, even in some local elections. You either have to be wealthy or sell your soul. –Curt

        1. I think there should be a cap on how much any candidate or party can spend on electioneering. One manifesto and one broadcast, that’s it. We’re taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, in my opinion. As in music, less is more …

          1. It would totally change the nature of politics in America. You could bet the media, that receives hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each election would fight it tooth and nail. –Curt

          2. Ah yes, vested interests … wonder what would happen if a candidate stood on a platform of spending no money at all … might be worth a try, perhaps. Slogan? True democracy! It’s OK … my carers are coming round with the pills in a little while …

  4. That burning in my chest, if I focus on it, it’s there and alive and excited to be alive, and is full of every emotion I’ve ever felt. And just to remind myself that same burning is in the chest of every person I’ll ever pass by.

    1. A beautiful thought – thanks! I have just been playing with my little granddaughter and experiencing the fascination and joy she feels in her new life alongside my own memories of being young and of realising my parents and grandparents once felt this too and gloried in my happy childhood in turn. On and on, always so much in the present moment. All time is in the moment and the moment is forever. We are so much more than we sometimes realise. The ordinary things in life are astonishing, thank goodness – who needs more?

    1. Thank you. I wrote an historical novel a few years back – the story of the Nottingham Luddites, as it happens, unpublished and in need of attention but bags of fun to write – and the Graves poem perfectly sums up the difficulty of imagining myself back into very different times and speaks against the ‘official’ view of history.

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