I have just spent three days with a group of extraordinarily open-minded co-travelers on the question: What is humanity? During the month leading up to these unusual days, I constantly made notes whenever I saw something that might help me to answer the question. At the event itself these notes were of little consequence. The interactions with other minds and hearts made the notes seem redundant. There is a superb counter-argument to every argument that you can make, and a strong counter-feeling to every feeling you can offer. Learning is in the interface.
Now, back at my writing desk, once a dough-kneading table used by other women in the last century, I look out the window and see this question everywhere. The hanging birch sways over the water. How is it essentially different from me? It does what it can to survive precariously at the water's edge; it is born from seed; it dies; it communicates; it interacts with other beings, doing its own small part in the river of evolution. My dog wags her ample tail in gratitude for a special breakfast that is not the unpalatable dog food she consumes as a last resort on most days. Her eyes glisten with affection and satisfaction, just as they lower and look away when she knows she has done the wrong thing. She has a sense of right and wrong about which clearly she is able to reflect.
The wild flowers and pollinating insects live up in the great festival of life that is Scandinavian summer. Just like us, drunk with joy, they celebrate the plenty, giving little thought to what is soon to come: the slow reduction of the light after midsummer in late June, until it flees into the dark cave of the winter solstice. All there is to do is to enjoy the day, and to live in faith in the now, even as we have no way of knowing exactly what is going to happen in the next moment.
The beaver continues about his work of clearing the forest and recycling the debris by using it to expand his family's home. Not far from him is my husband's wood pile that goes to warming our house in tiled stoves during the unseasonally cool summer evenings. There is also stealing and killing happening all around us in this serene place. The mink take the sea birds' eggs from their unguarded nests among the reeds, and the sea hawks pluck up the youngest and weakest of the ducklings in their claws, ending their short lives with one fell swoop. People kill people in gruesome terrorist attacks in our cities - and sadly perhaps the difference between us and the rest of all that lives lies here. Humans kill one another in the name of ideas. There is no benefit to anyone. Paradoxically, our big brains make us mad - the insane among all species. Is this what humanity boils down to?
Today as I look around me I continue to search. The value of asking yourself the big questions is not that you will be able to answer them. It is that they set off a never-ending chain reaction of reflections that becomes a part of evolution. That too is humanity.