Monday, August 06, 2018


I recently had dinner with a man, my senior by a couple decades, who articulately supported his conviction that humanity is doomed. He did so rather cheerfully, even cavalierly. A detailing of his specific arguments here in print would make for grim reading. I reckon he's right, of course. Or wrong. Or somewhere in between. I half-heartedly reminded him that there are those in every generation who have prognosticated impending end times, but otherwise just let him make his case, waiting for him to be done, having learned that in a debate between hope and doom, doom always carries the day as it chuckles world-wearily at our naivete even if it hasn't, so far, seen its rhetorical victory play out in the real world.

We're still here and kicking, having somehow remained a step or two ahead of doom. It's only human, of course, to worry about and even fear the future, whether we're looking at tomorrows or centuries. Our time here, in geological terms has been but an eye blink, and in cosmological terms even less, and there is nothing more scientific than hope to "prove" our species will survive much beyond the present day.

I can go there: to the doom. My dinner mate's main argument is that the mistakes and omissions we've made over the past few decades make our demise both imminent and inevitable. I could spin that argument with the best of them if I were so inclined, be it about my own personal doom or that of us all. There is pain and suffering and death before us. There is tragedy and terror around every corner. No matter how safe and secure we feel, there are gas mains ready to explode, jet engines falling from the sky, and once-in-a-millennium earthquakes or storms or tsunamis only a butterfly wing flap away. The doomsayers chide us that we have our heads in the sand as we go about our pollyanna lives, ignoring the doom that awaits.

I may be a fool about many things, but I feel I fully comprehend the warnings of my dinner companion and others, and sometimes even fall into a kind of despair over the direction our world is taking, but I have never lost a moment of sleep over doom, if only because I find it among the most pedestrian of things upon which to dwell. It doesn't bother me that we are doomed. It only bothers me when we let our inevitable doom prevent us from living today.

There is a proverb of unknown origin that goes, "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now." The first sentence is an admonishment to learn from the past; the second a reminder to, right now, get on with our life of doing.

For the past couple weeks, the children enrolled in our summer program have been engaged in an almost continuous project, pumping water from the cast iron pump that resides at the top of the hill, amongst mature cedars that were planted in a row some decades ago, digging and shaping channels and dams, filling up large tubs with water, then dumping them to watch it flood their creations, studying where it goes and what happens, cheering when this dam holds and when that channel does not. Their play has been full of plans and concerns, schemes and disappointments. They have been, as children do, living in the moment and the very near future, fully engaged with their projects, with one another, with their emotional, physical, and intellectual world, feeling, bickering, and doing, which is the better part of what it means to be human.

They are not contemplating doom. They are not regretting the trees that were not planted 20 years ago. They are planting their seeds right now, which is, after all, the only time to plant them.

Perhaps in two decades doom will be upon us all. Maybe the Earth will have become an uninhabitable desert, maybe human ingenuity will have finally and inevitably met it's match. But in all likelihood, the doomsayers will have been wrong again and these children will get to live among the trees they have planted, just as we, for better or worse, are living among the ones we planted in the decades of our youth. I like to think that we adults are there to provide the wisdom, the lessons from the past, that comes from the experience of having watched our own trees grow.

I don't doubt the doom, but I have no idea what to do about it other than to do in this moment, engaging in projects with the other people, planting trees with them, and letting the doom that is forever hiding around this corner or that take care of itself.

When I said to my new friend that I cannot live that way, that I must chose anticipation over fear, he tapped his forehead and said, "Oh, I only believe we're doomed up here." He then tapped his chest, "But I try to live from here." And it's from there that the children play; it's from there that we plant our trees.

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