As I was walking through the woods I stopped to admire a beautiful old oak tree. Its massive trunk supports an enormous canopy with lower branches almost as large as the trunks of other nearby trees. I’m sure the tree must be several hundred years old, and I thought about all the change it must have witnessed during the course of its life at the edge of a deep ravine.
I thought about the Indians that once may have lived on this hill and hunted in these woods; the settlers that came later and cleared much of the forest to make room for farm fields. I felt this unreasonable urge to give it a big hug and thank it for standing sentinel overlooking the hill that covers my home.
Thinking about about how trees stand in one place for a lifetime made me think about how animals spend their lives moving about in search of resources. Humans in particular have been such a restless species constantly on the move, conquering new territories. The exploitation of fossil fuels, the industrial age of machines gave us the ability conquer much of the earth’s surface. Today we drive in cars or fly in planes constantly on the go. Why, I wondered, did we forget about sitting in one place or walking from place to place. Why do we need to travel so far? Why is it so difficult to simply enjoy where we are at rather than think about going somewhere else?
I’ve been enjoying reading one of Richard Rohr’s books, “Falling Upward, A spirituality for the two halves of life”. He writes “Unless you can chart and encourage both movement and direction, you have no way to name maturity or immaturity.” It’s made me think about how humanity is or is not maturing as a species, and how we need to move away from our current way of living.
We were once children living in our parent’s home and then we moved out; we matured into responsibility for our lives. I think Western society is in a similar place today. We in the West have lived long dependent upon a system that supplies most of our physical needs. Now we face a future where the supply of resources is less certain; where events could even become hostile to our survival. Weather events such as storms, floods, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts are occurring more frequently. The fabric of our society seems to be crumbling. With the election of Trump the world has lost confidence in our political leadership. The news is filled with stories of senseless violence and unrest, all across the world. Things indeed, seem to be falling apart.
There is a growing concern about the direction in which our civilization is headed, but too often we still seem more concerned with what we might be losing than what might lay ahead. In fact, I think this might be the whole of our problem. We don’t know how to chart and encourage direction forward into life after the fossil fuel driven industrial age. What is keeping us from moving forward? Perhaps we lack vision, lack the imagination to see beyond our fear of change. I think we need to see what we are moving towards, not dwell on what we are moving away from.
It’s important that we look beyond the things that are falling apart in order to imagine life becoming better, healthier, saner. If we can’t see beyond this crumbling dysfunctional system we will be like a child that refuses to move out of their parent’s home, insisting that Mom and Dad take care of us. “We can’t make it on our own!” “We can’t make it without fossil fuels.” As long as we cling to what we have we will fight against losing it.
I think maturity comes when we recognize the need to change and are willing to be responsible for the direction of our life. We may not want to think about life without cars and trucks, access to cheap food, and stores filled with stuff to buy. We may not want to give up our sacred cows; those ideas that form the foundation of why we are right and others are wrong. But it is necessary we do so. At some point the future arrives and we have no choice. We are forced to accept change, because events dictate it.
For those who cannot accept the reality of change, events may leave them emotionally and mentally unstable. Such people will likely behave in violent, unpredictable and self-destructive ways. I think we have to accept that this is already becoming a common response, and we probably won’t be able to save people from their insanity. But for those who can mature, who move into the next stage of life, I think it’s possible to see the benefits. Maturing is a natural process of aging. Arrested adolescence is not healthy.
As I move out of my 50’s and soon into my 60’s I think about the life that I have lived and the person I’ve become. I haven’t enjoyed all the aspects of aging. I would like to still be able to play a game of basketball with all the energy and passion I once enjoyed. But overall I love the person I’ve become. I have enjoyed maturing. I’ve enjoyed that process when experience blossoms into knowing, and knowing ripens into wisdom.
I’ve enjoyed a life of movement and I’ve enjoyed settling down. I enjoy thinking of a future when the sound of road traffic is dimmed, when farm communities come back to life, when birds and insects are thriving, when simple living is enough. And I enjoy sitting with my back against an old oak tree, looking out over a ravine and imagining what this tree might see if it lives another couple hundred years.