Our Hard-won Treasure
I wonder why this doesn’t feel stranger than it does. Here I am, very early in the world, standing on the stubs of fins that no longer allow my kind to escape the sleek marauders of the sea; here I am trying to hobble from puddle to puddle so I can immerse my suffering body in the salt water pools left behind by the retreating tide.
I have to say that I enjoy being able to look around me with the perspective of you, my descendant, who lives in a world that will one day be green, covered with lakes and mountains, fields and forests, and draped in the colors of the rainbow. And you say that there will be flying beings, crawling beings, and that your kind will stand on two legs?
Now, you are telling me that you are seated at a table among friends with whom you meet to write, prompted by some phrase. And today’s phrase is “Meet my ancestors”?
So I gather I’m one of your ancestors; and you’re lending me words and a way of looking that changes how I see everything. I’m not sure how I feel about your claim that my kind will survive; that our exodus from the sea in which we have lived for billions of years will begin a new strand of life–stretching out into an unfathomable future; that my descendants will go forth, and millions of years from now there will be beings, like you, who will have a range of possibilities unimaginable to me.
But for me, there will only be a short future full of suffering, as I migrate from the sea I have known to a homeless existence on these shifting tectonic plates—where there will not be, for millions of years, any welcome for evolving feet by carpets of cool grasses; where there will be no shield for heads exposed to the pitiless sun by leafy tree branches; and where there will be no blooming meadows full of daisies and wind-swept grasses to greet the hungry gaze of my descendants.
But now you are telling me, a bit sadly, that you do not expect to have any descendants beyond a single generation; and that your entire world is poised on a cliff face of indifference, discouragement, and the fear that nothing any of you do really matters.
Please do not tell me that. In a few moments I know you will leave and I will be left alone here on this field of unforgiving stones, across which I must hobble on the stumps of my useless fins, if I am to have any hope of catching a breath in lungs still so unused to air; if I am to have any possibility of reaching a larger pool in which I can recover before it too evaporates, and before my scales curl up like peeling paint.
Please don’t tell me that millions of years from now all hope for the future will be slipping out of your world, that my contribution and the price paid by all those who will hobble in my footsteps will have only built a leaky sieve with no memory and no heart.
Please leave me with some hope that my own suffering, and the difficult journeys that await my descendants will lead to something of lasting value.
Please promise me that you will carry in your heart an abiding care for the future and that you will take your own step across the unwelcoming embers of your world. Otherwise, how will I have the heart to take mine?
You are telling me that you don’t know how to live in your own heart; that your over-developed head keeps taking over with thoughts forged in fear and isolation.
Let’s make a bargain, you and I. I’ll lend you my heart, which is the only support I have as I look across the hot stones in front of me, preparing to launch my pilgrimage into a grim future.
And now you are asking yourself what you can contribute in return.
My answer is this. Don’t give up on your mind, with its power to see further than I am able. Don’t give up on your appreciation for your senses, for your breath, and for your body’s ability to stand and reach up towards the heavens. And don’t give up on your heart. Let yourself learn to feel at home there, where there are no words, no concepts, and no fear. Learn to hear and speak the heart’s ancient language of caring. Let yourself care about what happens next in your world. Your heart already knows–and does its best to remind you every day–how much your world has cost in the lives of so many, in order to give you your life.