For any thinking person, the long standing faith in human progress is shaking in its boots. You can see how badly it’s shaking by how often it’s vociferously defended. Recently I saw Al Gore on a talk show, his fists clenched almost, assuring the audience that “we’re going to get through this. No doubt about it. It may take a while, but …”

I hear similar sentiments expressed all the time. “You’ve got to have hope.” But why? Why do you have to have hope? In the end, nature will decide if human beings keep on keeping on, or if we contain characteristics and contradictions that are incompatible with nature — incompatible with keeping on.

I don’t see much difference between saying “you’ve got to have hope” and saying “you’ve got to have wishful thinking.” When so many crises have reached the advanced levels that we now witness, wishful thinking becomes part of the problem. Saber rattle with nuclear bombs long enough and some crazy fool is going to send one flying. What part of human progress do nuclear bombs represent? Hope, in reference to nuclear bombs, is that we can turn back the clock and undo them. But we know it won’t happen.

And that’s but one dark piece of human progress. One of dozens. In the last two hundred years, the human population has expanded from one billion to eight billion. An 800 percent increase in merely three life spans. Can we call that progress? We have enlarged into and exploited every inhabitable inch of this planet, upsetting age-old balances. For the masses such exploitation is a matter of survival, but for the privileged, it’s a matter of greed, satisfying ego gratifications, owning bigger yachts, more ostentatious homes, sleeker cars – the future be damned.

Meanwhile the prevailing economic philosophy/religion – capitalism – depends on ever more consumption, ever more consumers. I remember Bush saying to the whole country, right after 9/11, don’t let them defeat you. Take a trip somewhere. Buy things…. How low can a president go, I recall thinking at the time. How far can a society decline? To be a heavy consumer has become something heroic. Patriotic.

Anyway, I doubt we needed Bush’s encouragement to stay on the increasingly sickening path we were already addicted to. I look with despair at all these sterile McMansions going up in equally sterile subdivisions in this now largely community-less America. The small farmer, all but gone; the small merchant, all but gone; the financial racketeers and the war machine (war being profitable) running things; the general lack of questioning about what we are becoming.

Another bit of Bush wisdom, paraphrased: War is how you get out of a depression.

If agribusiness and Walmart and the war machine collapsed upon themselves, I would see this as hope for the future, but, dear God, first the chaos, hope now akin to human beings rising out of our own ashes. Hope not unlike what the Syrian refugees must feel, crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded flimsy rafts, with only more suffering welcoming the survivors on the other side. In so many places, the shit has already hit the fan.

I think of our turn coming. I remind myself that this blustering racketeer who has risen to the highest office in the most powerful country in the so-called “free-world” did not create the amount and size of the catastrophes we are now facing. Rather he’s but edged us one baby step closer to the precipice, and the situation is not going to change much after he’s removed from office. I remind myself of the huge delusion holding court these days that our dire circumstances are the consequence of current poor leadership, and that better leadership can correct things.

. . .

All that said and off my chest, of course I could be wrong. Maybe things aren’t so bad as they look to me. I remind myself that the universe operates in never ending circles of ends and beginnings. Some bigger, some smaller. As an elder, in my own circle of life, the end looms ever more visibly on the horizon. The end of the world as I know it, no matter what happens globally.

In another direction, I see the sun coming up in the morning. I have another new day. And I remind myself that just as much as the guy sitting next to me in the doctor’s waiting room, I need to use what light I have to peer into the holes in my own consciousness to see what’s still to be learned. Indeed, I think Jesus got it right when he said that before I worry about the sliver in my neighbor’s eye (even if my neighbor should live in a big white house), attend to the log in my own. Any way you look at it, getting right with myself is my one real chance to make for a better day, both for me and for anyone who comes into contact with me.

As I’m writing this, I’m spending two weeks with my son and daughter-in-law and my four month old grandson in my little Canadian cabin. On Lake Huron. My neighbors down the beach tell me that it was fifty years this summer that Connie (my ex-wife) and I bought the place. 1967. For 3,500 dollars, outhouse included. We had the cabin before we had the kids. Ty and Holley (the kids) spent a couple of months up here every summer in their growing up. Even a week in the winter now and then. They loved it here. Still do. Some of their closest friends are the adult versions of the kids they grew up with on Bruce Beach in the summers.

And now here’s Andrew, spending his first summer where Ty spent his first summer. The circle moves along, Ty now the father, I now the grandfather. It’s a rare opportunity to be together, in this ever new place in the circle. Back home I live a six hour drive from Ty, Mari and Andrew. We won’t be seeing each other all that much.

Well, long story short, I find Andrew a lot of fun to be around, just watching him entertain himself by grabbing his feet or enjoying the new sounds he can make with his mouth. He can look at a light for a very long time without losing interest. Fascinating world, he must be thinking, although yet without such words. Without any words. In no time at all, I myself am becoming fascinated with this intelligent creature who doesn’t have any words yet. For anything. Everything is just what it is. No words at all to get between him and what he’s looking at.

And then there is his quickness to smile when we catch each other eyes, particularly in the morning, when I’ve just sat down to write, and my beautiful daughter-in-law brings him by to say good-morning. Big smile. In a few days, I feel he already sees me as an ongoing part of his everyday world. Hey, I remember you from yesterday, his eyes seem to say. We smile at each other for a good long time, and I throw some babble in there, more or less cooing, but with words: You like it here on planet earth, don’t you, little baby. You think this is a friendly universe, don’t you, you little fat buddha.

And he’ll squeal at me. He’s still learning to laugh out loud. It’s coming though.

And after they go, and I’m back at my work – whatever I’m writing on at the time – that smile stays with me. Like a gift. And over our few days together, a question has come with it. Why don’t I have a ready smile that big, just for being alive? Just for existing.

Sometimes I do. But why not more? Andrew can break into a smile even when he’s crying. He’s teething right now pretty hard in the evenings, and I’ve seen it happen many times. That’s how close his smile always is.

It’s never too late, I tell myself. I wish. I hope. It’s never too late to be born again into a person with a total Yes for life. How embarrassing to think in such words as “born again,” considering how corrupted they’ve become by the money grubbing hucksters, like a Joel Osteen or a Jimmy Swaggart, who are always circling around in the world of evangelism, making big money off religion.

But “born again” may be what it takes, to have that unvarnished smile again for life. Surely I was just like Andrew once, and maybe I still am underneath. He seems to be drawing a great big Yes out of me, almost against my common sense.

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