Sunset off Cape Erimo, Hokkaido, Japan, 1997
Lately I can’t shake the feeling that we are witnessing the end of our world. Too much seems to be unhinging and the very fragility of the mechanism kicking into play. Look at the strange weather, the nutty lopsidedness of our world politics, the unscrupulousness of big business, the obliteration of other creatures, the greater and greater focus on having more and more, and the constant, constant bad news. CNN seems to think the world consists of the American election campaign… For a four-year presidency, doesn’t it seem a little counterproductive and not a little dangerous to be spending a whole year exclusively focusing on winning the next election? Isn’t the leader supposed to be working on more important issues?
When I heard the report about the Pentagon predicting that by 2006 the first big effects of global warming will cause massive worldwide environmental catastrophes, all I could think was that the American government is weighing the wrong dangers. Iraq is nothing compared to the peril of our planet’s environmental collapse. What are we thinking? Why is it so hard for us to pay heed to the health and stability of our world? Is it the very nature of our inhabiting the sphere rather than looking down at it that makes it impossible for us to see it other than immensely big and inexhaustible? If so, then we are no different from mice in an overcrowded box.
On my way by train to a one day hike of Mount Takao west of Tokyo yesterday, I watched a mentally handicapped young man shuttle back and forth between train doors, excitedly pointing at passing trains and views of the scenery flicking by. His clear enjoyment of the world he was witnessing drew my attention throughout the 50 minute ride, and no one else on the train payed so much homage to the wonder and beauty of existing in this jewel of a world we live in. I wondered why it was that a man who supposedly understood less than the rest of us, could appreciate without prejudice what all of us are blessed with. Why is wonder necessarily the domain of the childlike?
It is what we are taught and the way we learn to see that instills the kernel of insight into our world and how we choose to interact with it. On my way home from the mountain, stepping up to the ticket vending machine at the train station, a Japanese boy of about 5 or 6 was sitting on the counter in front of the machine. I leaned in to buy a ticket and he, suddenly realizing that I was a foreigner appearing right beside to him, almost toppled off the counter. His eyes went wide as he exclaimed, “Whoa!”, an involuntary, ingrained reaction to foreigners that everyone around him has always taught him is the only reaction to foreigners that a Japanese should have. It was his education of the world and likely to follow him throughout his life. I laughed at the sheer irony of this boy and the earlier young man, that they should both carry such young minds, but be so different in their clarity.
Such a prejudice toward the world grows in many forms. Without being able to distinguish the structure and mechanism that keeps it all running there is no way for us to overcome our folly in destroying the very thing that sustains us.
I look out my window and it is all there, the world, our home, the mirage of our existence. The picture is getting cloudy, though. Soon there may be no more eyes to see it all.