In a one-week period, I saw the excellent documentary “I Am,” by Tom Shadyac — filled with the visual glimpses of hope and decay, competitiveness and compassion that yin and yang us through our daily lives — and “Birdman,” with some very poignantly written and poignantly acted glimpses of the struggle we all have to find meaning in lives that can sometimes seem breathtakingly small and petty.
In this same time period I had an amazingly encompassing 7.5-hour conversation with a friend that still but scratched the surface of the story of life — and an intense hour lifting up into the harsh light the incredibly sad realities of a violent, corrupt, callous world that can leave us feeling dismay that we can have faith in anything at all.
I read about the Lima climate change attempts — little steps, big issue… the sadness of torture and immigration blights… and the powerfully sad story of a an orphaned four-year-old girl who tried to take care of her mother, now dead from ebola, and is looking for someone to want her.
And, it all brings me to mind of the Andie McDowell character in ‘sex, lies and videotape,’ bemoaning the state of the world’s problems… feeling small and inconsequential… contrasting with Emma Stone’s considerably fiestier character in “Birdman” who comes to grips with the smallness of human existence in a different way.
We connect in so many small ways — we disconnect in so many big ways — and through it all, we cling to the hope that our small connections will win out in the end.
I think about the connections I have been making this year with people who are struggling — feisty in the effort — to make a difference, and those who are, in fact, recognizing both the smallness and the hugeness of our individual lives in an interconnected universe.
A powerful loss in a town leads to an uprising. A different loss here leads to a shift in consciousness. We talk and, ideally, debate with reasoned and impassioned minds. Small bit by small bit, we add up to a constellation we can’t see ourselves because we are in it.
And… I think of argon.
As Shadyac pointed out in “I Am,” argon — the third most common gas in our atmosphere — is something we don’t absorb. We breathe it in. We breathe it out. It remains intact.
Astronomer Harlow Shapley made clear with numbers, and environmentalist author David Suzuki made clear with words, that each breath we take is “a matrix that joins all life together,” past and future as well as present. We inhale our ancestors and exhale into the lungs of our children.
As Shapley put it: “Your next breath will contain more than 400,000 of the argon atoms that Gandhi breathed in his long life. Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper, from the arguments of diplomats at Yalta, and from the recitations of the classic poets.”
This is why — in the despair of the hugeness of our conflicts as a society and as individuals coping with the ups and downs of our lives — I breathe in the words breathed out by the 13th century poet Rumi, whose life I recently celebrated with an annual community of others.
As he put it:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,there is a field. I’ll meet you there.When the soul lies down in that grass,the world is too full to talk about.Ideas, language, even the phrase each otherdoesn’t make any sense.
— Mikki Morrissette