This I Believe

Linnea - Topeka, Kansas
Entered on November 29, 2006

I believe, because knowledge is in short supply.

What I know is this: As I stand here under the stars at the summit of Lassen volcano, I know I am a conscious assemblage of infinitesimally small bits of the universe. Forged in stellar furnaces and spewed into the galaxy, these atoms became participants in cycle after cycle: fusing at the core of a star, teaming up with organic molecules on the tail of a comet, circulating in a planetary atmosphere. They make up thunderstorms; make up canals that irrigate the fields that grow the crops that magically appear at my local supermarket. Little parts of me are second hand smoke and the bug I swallowed on last week’s hike.

Some worry that this physical view may denigrate humanity rather that glorify it. It offers no moral imperative, no hope in the face of death. But the very fact that the universe is self-organizing and that I’m part of it tells me something about who I am and how I work. I walk by faith. Faith moves me to do something, to be something, to create something greater than myself. Healthy families and societies on the whole make healthy people. When society is not healthy, it is my duty to help reorganize the system.

Nature tends toward equilibrium. Humanity is pushing it out of balance. In response, the world will adapt, and much of humanity along with it. The question is how, and when, and who and how many will be hurt. Like this body of mine, humanity is made up of infinitesimally small bits, and we all depend upon one another, all six billion of us. We are just learning this. In the future our sons and daughters will scoff at our lack of foresight, as today we scoff at tribalism and monarchy.

Standing here on this volcano, enjoying the luxury of going where I want to go and being where I want to be, I feel freedom; I feel power. Freedom is power, a power we must learn to focus. Like this volcano, humanity has the power to reshape its world. If born first in violence, this volcano has made the land around it lush and full of life. If human history has been characterized by bloodshed, it has the power to make its future a peaceful and fruitful one– not through violence and subterfuge, but through understanding and openness.

Someday this volcano will erode away. Someday the universe will come to an end, and long before that civilization will come to an end. Long before that my life and the lives of those I love will come to an end. If I meet my end is not up to me. How I get there, is.