Dear Reader January, 2002
As we welcome the New Year, almost everyone I know is happy that 2001 will soon be history.
Just two years ago, we seemed to live in a different world. People had made, say, 600% on their e-commerce stocks in a few weeks and were thinking about retiring to play in the sun or on the slopes, believing that things go up forever and work was obsolete. Having skated through the actual changing of the millenniums with ease and a soaring stock market, for many people it was mostly downhill from January 1, 2000. Investors and investment professionals, certainly, would like to write on a clean slate.
This year, we are making New Year’s resolutions with an uncertainty that is new to many of those who dreamed of retiring at the age of 29. The more industrious of the dreamers are carrying trays, re-training to be teachers or working for non-profits. But the fact that there are bad guys in the world (or even right in our town) who are smart and warped enough at the same time to hurt a lot of people is hardly new news. In the past couple of years, we’ve let go of our ridiculous fantasy, shocked by the reality of future value computations, violent anger and frustration. It turns out that life is partly work, partly joy, partly grief, partly luck and completely finite.
It will take much more time to define the order that is being called new in the world, because there is negotiating to do and a lot of digesting of information before the negotiating can begin. Thousands of unemployed young men trained in hate and the science of mass destruction roam the world without national identities, their cause fed by the FACT of mass poverty and deprivation. Nation states are greatly diminished in their power to control our destinies. Corporate interests are often disguised as the interests of stakeholders but seriously consider only shareholders. Under the cover of war, the natural systems of the globe are ravaged in the interest of “developing” something big and new and shiny or imposing a belief system on expanded territory. In the shadow of the World Trade Center Relief Funds, ordinary charities and non-profits struggle to stay alive – politically consigned to pick up much of the social and environmental work we no longer want to pay government to do. Corporate fat cats continue to suck prosperity from the veins of business even as more people are relegated to the lists of unemployed and uninsured.
It seems there is not much to celebrate or rejoice in this New Year’s Day compared to the mood of false euphoria many in the West were experiencing a short two years ago. Yet, what has really changed except the scope and depth of our vision? None of the issues with which we struggle today were invented on September 11, 2001. Nor were they invented as the stock market slid to a more realistic reflection of the state of trade and commerce. The deep global conflicts and scarcities (the symptoms of which we treat) will not disappear should terrorists be captured and publicly martyred.
Although it is difficult to see, there is a lot we do have to be thankful for, and it’s more genuine than what we celebrated to welcome the new millennium two years ago. For one thing, the majority of the population of the world is appalled by heinous acts that a couple of centuries ago would have been part of the fabric of society. Religious leaders around the globe have joined to accept diversity of thought and belief. Our ordinary neighbors seem capable of incredible heroic acts in the face of mortal danger. Environmental groups work doggedly on global ecosystems with ever-broadening public support. We know what we have to do and where we should go.
In a world full of uncertainty, there is no guarantee that we will move toward a larger, tolerant, sharing vision. There are very real villains and devils out there, and in here, and they must be vanquished. But it would be easy to let fear and anger overtake wisdom. There are some who would exploit fear and anger for their own glorification. That is not new, either – it is as old as civilization. Read Machiavelli.
Around this New Year’s, 2002, I feel a need for inner peace and clarity more than I ever have as those conflicts and confused tides swirl around me. I found a poem by Wendell Berry in the book “Refuge”, by Terry Tempest Williams. I offer it to you, our readers, friends and associates, and wish you wisdom in the New Year.
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS, by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Dear Reader January, 2002