01 Jan Our World Is Ready for a Renaissance
I STAND ATOP THE HILL, GAZING INTO THE DEEP BLUE OCEAN expanding endlessly before me. I come to this spot in my home town to find peace. I take full breaths of the clean salt air, where an inhale fills my body and brings nourishment to my soul. It’s 2021. Our world is ready for a renaissance.
Down below, the waves crash on the tucked-away cove. I close my eyes and listen to the planet breathing; the world is fighting for life.
Since I was a kid, this microcosm of life has scarcely changed. I come here and find a piece of that resilience in the prickly cacti whose blood-red flowers bloom amongst its piercing thorns.
The yellow and purple plants and abounding sea life continue to survive as they always have, irrespective of the uncertainties the world faces every day.
The point where I stand splits the ocean into two like a jagged puzzle piece sent adrift from some distant land. When I stare out into the horizon, I don’t know what lies beneath the steel-blue water. Still, I know there is something below the crest of the sea’s glassy surface.
This moment of reflection makes me feel as though I can travel through the dense clouds and be on another far-off planet. It appears different; it sounds alien — it’s a foreign land. Yet, it’s still home. This world is home to all of us.
We’re in this fight together.
The unsung heroes of history
History appears linear; we remember the names of heroes and the battles fought in the name of one’s country. Today, however, instead of being sent into battle to kill our fellow man like knights of the Crusades, we’re free.
Without a common enemy or king, the conflict has shifted from the battlefield to within each of us. We’re all fighting something; every day we get up it’s in the glorious contest of survival.
Our world is facing an unprecedented global crisis. It’s scary — that’s all we hear when talking about our current situation. Rather than tune into the noise, fear, and panic, we must look back at how humans have faced unimaginable adversity yet broke through the other side together.
These tales of victory define our human history. Yet, we seldom read about the daily struggles of the ordinary citizens who lived their lives as we are now.
These unsung heroes created the backbone of our collective human existence by staying inspired, caring for their families, and being there for a neighbor in times of need.
They went about their business and did what they had to. If what we do comes from our heart, we will get through this just like we have before.
Nobody is impervious to a helping hand or a word of encouragement. Perhaps most important is a simple laugh from a friend or a smile from a stranger.
We are writing history with every decision we make that contributes to our global wellbeing. Unlike ordinary citizens of the past, every single one of us has the power to make our voices heard.
We’ve always been fighters. Although now we’re better equipped with the knowledge of our past to challenge the enemy: fear. We have a choice when confronted by the enemy, to fight or to run. Our decision determines our story. To love is to fight; to care is to be courageous.
As historian and author Will Durant writes in his book The Lessons of History:
The greatest thing to take from history is that man is tough; we are subject to our environment; nature controls man.
Durant devoted his life to studying civilizations and the motives of humanity. He found the role of character — our animal instinct which connects us with the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea — is that the individual rises to the occasion.
We remember the men and women who stood for something, who fought when they could have run, who triumphed in the face of evil; these are the acts that create legends.
The Flourishing of the Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance rose from the ashes of the 14th-century Black Death. In Italy and all across Europe and Asia, death was omnipresent.
The survivors felt the fleetingness of life like never before and turned to the arts: poetry, literature, sculpture, and painting as a semblance of meaning in a meaningless world. Hence, the Renaissance was born.
With death knocking on the door, our ancestors turned their temporal domain into a work of art. Many pious citizens of Europe became more religious. They believed they must cultivate a more profound connection with the god who cast down a relentless disease on the living.
According to Angolo Di Tura Del Grasso, a chronicler from Siena Italy, many who had been devout ascetics before gave themselves over to worldly pleasures for the first time:
Monks, priests, nuns, and laymen and women all enjoyed themselves…. Everyone thought themselves rich because he had escaped and regained the world.
The masses sought to seize the time that they had and fill it with beauty. We move so quickly in our modern society it’s as if we suffocate ourselves. We don’t know why we’re moving; all we know is we’re trying to keep up.
The inessential matters of the day often consume us. To the survivors of the plague, these nuances became meaningless. If they haven’t already, they will fade for us too.
Why, the survivors asked, should we waste any moment of our lives worrying about useless matters when we might not be here tomorrow? We too must view life as a gift. Perhaps 2020 was the wake-up call we need.
It’s a new year, and the mindset of the planet is shifting. We will come out of this a changed people.
The Italian Renaissance produced many of history’s greatest artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli; where much of their artwork celebrates the beauty of life. We must ask: through the celebration of life, how will we create a better future?
In the 16th-century, Nicolaus Copernicus enlightened the world by discovering humankind is spinning on a rock through the black depths of outer space.
Until then, humans believed we were divine. Earth was considered the center of the universe. Humankind, we were convinced, had a supernatural reason to be here. Durant writes:
A decrease in religious belief had been going on since Copernicus discovered we are just a drop in an ocean of planets, and we began to wonder, how is it that we became so important to God?
What makes us extraordinary?
From century to century, we’ve searched for an answer to the question: what makes us so extraordinary? Life is a drop of water in the ocean of the past and nobody knows what will come of the future.
How can we make the very best of this marvelous treasure that we call life while we are here? Science has answered many mysteries of the universe, but what astronomers can’t reveal is the magic that takes place within each of us.
This virus has exposed our vulnerability as human beings. Nobody is immune. We mustn’t waste any time living anybody’s life other than our own.
Human consciousness, love, spirituality, the unexplainable depth of self that we all possess — these feelings make us question if we are here for a reason.
Science is only able to reveal the external. It answers questions such as why the world spins and how a tree grows, but it can’t explain what is in our hearts. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that now is the time we quiet the noise and listen.
We will rise from the ashes
While science accounts for the cause of this global phenomenon, it can’t communicate the feeling of pain of losing a loved one. It doesn’t help us understand the fear we have for the safety of our community and friends. It can’t define the connectedness we feel of being there for our family.
The beautiful mystery of our existence is the primitive instinct within us to care for one another in a time of need. History has proven that out of crisis comes empathy and a light.
What makes us human is the ability to rise to the occasion from the ashes. This binding human spirit transcends language, sex, and race. We share this common goal — we share a reason to live.
No matter where we are in the world, all we hope for is that this time will pass. As the revered philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations:
Consider both the infiniteness of time already passed and the immense vastness of that which is to come, wherein all things are to be resolved and annihilated. Art not thou then a very fool, who for these things, are either puffed up with pride, or distracted with cares, or can’t find in thy heart to make such moans as for a thing that would trouble thee for a very long time?
Something bigger than ourselves is taking place. We have the choice to be the problem or the solution. We must ask, where is the silver lining in this? How can I make a difference to a friend, a neighbor, a family member, a supposed enemy?
We are human beings who break barriers and defy odds. When the world reemerges, we’ll look back and remember how we came together as one. We’ll look back and remember how we came together, and won.
It’s 2021. The world is ready for a renaissance.