Ralph J. Dolan: Solstice thoughts on our terrestrial human troubles
Ralph Dolan poses for a portrait, Tuesday, in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »
WILLIAMSBURG — With the coming of the summer solstice, I feel I’m at the top of a Ferris wheel, the wheel being the circle of the year. There’s a subtle sense of excitement in the air.
Folks are all congregating around the ice cream stands. Teams of farm workers are out in the fields harvesting luscious strawberries. The women are even more vivacious. The children are even more lovable.
It’s early yet in the growing season. The young shoots of corn and cantaloupe and green peppers are being conjured out of the ground by those who know soil and seeds. There’s a sense of abundance. The Earth is bursting with life. With some judicious mechanisms of distribution it seems there would be plenty for everyone.
But many have nothing while a few have too much.
All cultures created by human beings, as far back as records take us, have known about this basic astronomical phenomenon: the solstice. Celebrations of all kinds are clustered around this time of year — graduations, Mother’s Day, proms, parades, spectacular fireworks displays. It seems only natural to be celebrating the fullness of life. Early humans didn’t know about the tilted axis of the Earth. But they did know that some important shift occurred in the relationship between sun and Earth.
And this shift represented something larger than their individual lives: something about how everything in creation works.
Creation myths are stories we have been spinning from the earliest days and in cultures, layer upon layer, all over the Earth. These stories seem always to be an effort to put one’s life into a larger meaningful context. They attempt to address such questions as: Where did we come from? What does it mean to be a human being? They are an effort to explain.
It is argued that we humans living in the post-industrial world are in a phase in which creation myths have broken down — that is, they no longer have a lot of meaning for people — but we have no new creation myths to replace them.
This is so in large part because in order to formulate a new and vital creation myth suitable for our times, we must factor in what astrophysics and quantum mechanics tell us about our home in the universe. What we find is breathtaking in its deviation from commonly held laws of nature. Despite the knowledge humanity has acquired, the universe is shrouded in mystery.
This lack of a creation myth, it is argued further, leaves us with a vague, underlying sense of anguish, of being not quite in balance, a little lost in space.
Perhaps having a vibrant story of our existence, supported by what we know to be true, is as necessary for human well-being as clothing, shelter, tools and strawberries.
Our story — the creation myth of the 21st century — must acknowledge that down in the subatomic world, matter hardly behaves in ways that might make us feel rooted in an orderly kind of existence. Our story must recognize a universe creating time and space as it expands in every direction, a place of a trillion galaxies, each with a truly unimaginable number of stars.
Our story, in short, must incorporate some sense of how profoundly isolated and, well, insignificant is everything about our planet. It is a sub-sub-microscopic mote of dust floating in an incomprehensible vastness.
Look at the life of each of us — it comes and goes in a twinkling! The individual passes out of existence and then out of memory. Egos get puffed up and deflated. Empires rise and fall.
The Earth is now well beyond her capacity — way too many humans wanting hamburgers, computers and fast cars. The Earth too is out of balance from overuse and misuse. There may be other forms of life out there in space. The probabilities are quite favorable.
But for now, we’re it! We humans and all the other life forms of Earth (out of whose belly we emerged) are the only known life in a universe that stretches 15 billion light years across (traveling at 186,000 miles per second).
Pity we can’t get along any better. We have so much in common.
Ralph J. Dolan of Haydenville served in Vietnam and has had a career as a licensed psychotherapist. His column appears on the fourth Monday of the month.