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This Is the Umbra of Man

It’s very hard to see where one’s people and culture fit into the scheme of things with humanity as a whole. Hell, I’m not even sure there is such a thing as ‘the scheme of humanity as a whole.’ Oh to be a nihilist, how easy that must be!

As a friend from abroad, who lived in the United States for nearly 20 years before returning to the Azores, repeated to me today, “Our world is on a collision course, and since America has so much influence in the world we need an important contribution from that side.”

As I told him, as well as numerous Canadians and Europeans before and after the election of our hideous president, don’t look to America anymore!

Did Donald Trump “find a narrow portal to crawl through to get to the Oval Office,” or did he waddle in through a wide gate? As long as Americans convince themselves of the former, we’re nowhere near hitting bottom.

The comforting idea that “we will come out stronger, once this last shriek of white supremacy and grievance and fear of the future is out of the system,” is based on the illusion that the American people and American institutions are essentially intact. That too is a lie.

Besides, the focus on peoples and nations, much less presidents and politics, is beside the point.

I spoke with a Franciscan nun yesterday, the head of an interfaith center in Sacramento not affiliated with the Catholic Church (I didn’t ask how that works). I felt we were having a good conversation at different levels—spiritually, philosophically and politically—when suddenly the American abyss opened up.

I had asked whether she felt the spiritual and political dimensions could flow together in a new way. Sister spoke of how many people from all faiths are coming to her center, “finding each other and sharing in their common distress.”

But when, at the end of our 20-minute talk I asked if she wanted to explore things further with others at her center, I heard the familiar refrain, echoing across every quarter of America: “I’m so overwhelmed.”

At first I thought she was referring to the cultural and political conditions we had been talking about, and for which many suffering people come to her center. But it wasn’t that.

“I have so much on my plate,” she said, using the cliché of chronically busy people without an inward and contemplative life. In short it was, as being overwhelmed probably always is, personal.

America is literally and metaphorically in the path of the totality of human darkness. Perhaps, if we can meet the deepest shadow of human consciousness here, there can be a new beginning for humankind.

For the first time in couple weeks, I walked to the edge of town before the heat, looking forward to the expansive view of fields, foothills and canyons. But entering the open space from between single-story office buildings, I was dismayed to see that the fields in three directions had been plowed and grated.

Where a short while ago desiccated indigenous and invasive plants of the dry season stretched for miles toward the foothills, now not a brown blade of grass was visible, just packed dirt.

The kite falcons are gone. The long-eared rabbits and pheasant are gone. The coyotes and rattlesnakes are gone.

Man is overrunning the earth. Soon you’ll have to travel to feel even a hint of wildness, much less be immersed in wilderness. That isn’t why Californians are flocking up to Oregon for the eclipse however. Believe me.

High above, a vulture soared by in the cloudless sky. It was joined by another, then a third and a fourth. They dropped lower, and flew in tight circles directly overhead.

I stood, without a thought, overwhelmed by the effortless grace of those majestic masters of the air. An unidentified feeling arose. Walking back, I asked myself: what was that, and the feeling it evoked?

It wasn’t just the stark beauty of the great birds above man’s ruination of another habitat. It was a connection with awareness beyond one’s own mind, beyond all human knowledge and experience.

Despite their repulsive image in the West, indigenous peoples believe vultures to be “all about higher awareness.” Perhaps life was saying through them: Don’t give up.

Can a new species of human being emerge at this time? Nothing less will suffice to meet the crisis of man’s consciousness.

Or is all a nascent human being can do is keep learning and growing, thereby contributing to the future of humanity, provided we have one?

Martin LeFevre

[email protected]

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