Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Brian Swimme should talk to a scientist before quoting scientific fact [“Experiencing Deep Time,” interview by Renee Lertzman, May 2001]. He would discover that Einstein was not the architect of a “quantum cosmology”; a handful of marbles does not slow and stop moving apart when thrown in the air; galaxies are moving apart from us at different speeds depending on their distance from us; and current cosmological models do not claim the present universe depends on an expansion rate that’s exact to within a “trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of 1 percent.”
Swimme’s decision to leave his slow-moving toddlers at Halloween to experience universal suffering with an insect on the road was similarly confused. I suspect he would do the same to me, were I to depend on him for the truth.
My statement concerning the so-called “fine-tuning” of the universe’s expansion is standard knowledge among astronomers. This surprising discovery was first announced back in 1973 by Stephen Hawking in a paper written with C.B. Collins. The authors asserted simply that the structure of the universe as we find it today depends upon an expansion rate at the beginning of time that could not have differed by much more than one part in ten raised to the fifty-seventh power, an exactness much tighter than my vernacular “trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of one percent.” The quantitative measure of this fine-tuning changes, of course, as we gather better data, but the overall picture remains much as Hawking first described it. A contemporary discussion with the most recent data can be found in a book entitled Just Six Numbers, by Cambridge University cosmologist Sir Martin Rees.
I enjoyed the May 2001 Readers Write on “Mothers and Sons.” I have three sons, and I saw myself in some of the writing: lying chest to chest in a warm bath; sleeping with my sons until they were four; going to bat for them at school.
Other essays made me sad: the son who must leave his mother’s bed because of her new husband; the boy who ran out of the house in fear of his mother’s wrath.
So much happiness, so much sadness. Isn’t that the way of life?
“Sarah” — the mother who wrote anonymously in your May Readers Write of her estrangement from her now grown, adopted Indian son Jeff — is likely dealing with the bitter fruit of a McCarthy-style hysteria.
Decades ago, the Canadian government responded to the then-new child-abuse panic by sponsoring “Children’s Aid Societies” with de facto police powers to seize children from abusive parents — and even to define “abuse” as they saw fit. These societies were protected from all criticism, and parents were given no right to defend themselves against unfounded accusations.
Because children’s court proceedings are secret, the arbitrary power, remorseless cruelty, and blatant dishonesty of these societies were known only to the victims: children torn from their mothers and sent to live with strangers, and desperate parents powerless to protect their young from the police.
These draconian laws are still in effect, with one notable exception. Perhaps a dozen years ago, it was discovered that one Children’s Aid Society had put half the children of an entire Indian tribe up for adoption. So a minister was fired, and Parliament exempted Indians from children’s laws.
It’s likely that Jeff was just such a baby — taken by force or deception from devoted parents simply because a group of self-righteous vigilantes with too much power didn’t approve of their lifestyle.
No doubt the bitter members of that tribe never forgot the despair of losing their children. While the grown-up Jeff must understand Sarah’s good will toward him, he must also wonder why she didn’t try to verify in person whether his birth mother gave him up willingly. Was it because he was “just an Indian” to whom she could surely give a “better life”?
Yet was that life better? Are his Indian birth parents still together? Sarah and her husband are not. Is this what Children’s Aid means by a “more stable family environment”?
Jeff apparently can’t bring himself to tell Sarah, the “mom” who cared for him throughout his youth, that he’s back home now; that — innocent or not — she was the recipient of stolen goods.
To Sarah, who wrote about her son Jeff: Please find your son, even though he says you wouldn’t be welcome, or that it’s “not a good time” for him. He needs to know how much you love him. Bring him something from your heart. Perhaps you could speak to his father; he is a tribal elder, and a wise man, surely. Show both of them the piece you wrote in The Sun. Please, take this chance: it may be one of the most important things you ever do. Jeff is obviously in pain. Even if he scorns you, even if he shuns you, he will know that a mother’s love never dies.
Derrick Jensen’s superb interview with the eloquent shaman Martín Prechtel [“Saving the Indigenous Soul,” April 2001] was a gift of the highest order, especially to us lost and confused norteamericanos. Nowhere — except in Prechtel’s books themselves — have I come across such a magnificent account of his life and work. It is work we should all consider taking up — not literally becoming shamans, but learning the practice of grief, the feeding of the other world, and the repayment of spiritual debt.
I was tickled by Jensen’s story of how his tape recorder malfunctioned during the interview. When Martín first visited my home some years ago, my digital clocks and other gizmos started flashing like so many orphaned VCRs. He was humble and apologetic about it, though I could sense his wonderment at why I possessed so many gadgets.
Gradually, it dawned on me that it isn’t just machines that break down in Martín’s presence. It’s also the silly, repetitive, mechanical thought-loops we Westerners haul around with us, and even seem to cherish. All our useless ideas and contraptions fall apart under the influence of a shaman clever and compassionate enough to show us how to sing the world into life.
I found Derrick Jensen’s interview with Martín Prechtel very interesting and conducive to further understanding of the world in which we live. I must disagree, however, with Prechtel’s idea that “until a few of your generations have died on the land and been buried there, and your soul has fed on the land, you’re still a tourist, a visitor.”
This type of view fragments our world into disconnected “places.” It is a developing theory in quantum physics, and a cornerstone of most spiritual philosophies, that every point in the universe is connected to every other point. We are all connected, and the sooner we understand — and practice — this, the sooner we will be able to act responsibly.
Prechtel’s “place” is something that he carves out by sharing his grief: “My child had merged with the land, so now I was related to the rocks and the trees and the air in a bodily way.” We all must share his grief, but I — and he — must also share the grief of a mother whose baby is dying from AIDS in Africa. We all live in Guatemala, and in Africa, and in our own backyards. Our grief must move us to action in this village we call the earth. It is all connected. Guatemala does not occupy a separate universe from downtown Detroit, or South Africa, or Tokyo.
I thank Prechtel for helping me to voice these thoughts that I, too, must learn to embrace.
I am grateful that people listen to what I have to say, but it is always a revelation for me to hear how easily what I say, once it is written, can be turned, twisted, misquoted, misunderstood, and made to serve the very complacency that our culture’s spiritual imperialism seems to generate. An understanding for what I am saying can only be achieved by people with a capacity for grief, especially the grief of realizing how much their adherence to spiritual, biological, and human monoculture has taken from them the ecstasy of the divine found in nature. The diversity and differences found in varying realities are not meant to be understood by humans. We are meant to feed these diversities, and when we kill them instead, we can only weep into the hollow space we’ve created. Sameness or oneness is not a goal for the future; the acceptance and maintenance of our differences is. Perhaps the limited universe that science would claim to know can be touched from any place, but not every place lies within that universe.
I’d never even heard of The Sun until today, when I picked up the mail and noticed a small, folded brochure with an interesting picture on it. I opened it, read a few of the blurbs, and immediately realized that I was the target of some magazine’s scheme to find new readers. I was a bit annoyed to be sent mail I didn’t ask for, this being one of the aggravating byproducts of capitalism. Life is strange, however, and one often finds something worthwhile in the least likely places.
Just before I got your brochure, I had been thinking about how rarely I really feel the things I intellectually understand. For example, I understand that what I do or believe is important, but rarely, if ever, do I feel that. What I was beginning to feel is depressed.
Then I read Sy Safransky’s words: “The world breaks down the door to my heart. Old, rotten, splintered door: why even bother closing it again?”
Suddenly, I actually felt what this man was writing. I didn’t think about it; I felt it. I looked up your site on the internet and read Safransky’s “Notebook.” It was amazingly beautiful, clear, and honest. I almost felt as if I knew this person. Just reading a few paragraphs brought new life into my cynical appraisal of myself and my place on this earth.
Life is so mysterious that it is frightening at times, but it’s good to know that there are others like me out there — I think.