15 Mar Our World is Ready for a Renaissance
I STAND ATOP THE HILL, THE DEEP BLUE OCEAN expanding endlessly before me. In my hometown of Malibu, I come to this spot on Point Dume to find peace — how I need it now. I take full breaths of the clean salt air where an inhale fills my body and brings nourishment to my soul.
Last night’s rain turned the sand into a dark brown mud which covers the slope of the hill. My feet sink into the sand with each step as I follow the indigenous flora rolling down to the cliff’s edge. 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.
Underneath is the last unimaginable unknown. A mysterious part of the world lies sleeping, unflustered by my steadfast eye.
This moment of reflection makes me feel as though I can travel through the dense clouds and be in 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.
Our Modern Day
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, it’s weird — that’s all we hear when talking about our modern situation. We all feel the uncertainty in the air. 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. The day to day struggles of the ordinary citizen who lived their lives as we are now — staying inspired, caring for their families, being there for a neighbor— these unsung heroes created the backbone of our collective human existence. They went about their business and did what they had to. If what we do comes from our heart, we will get through this. Nobody is impervious to a helping hand or a word of encouragement. Perhaps most important is a simple laugh from a friend.
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.
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; this creates legends.
We’ve Been Here Before
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, this is the wakeup call we need. We will come out of this a changed people.
The Italian Renaissance produced the greatest geniuses of history — Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli — whose artwork celebrates life. When given a choice, we too must ask: what future will we create?
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:
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?
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; nobody knows what will come of the future. Nothing matters anymore besides being true to ourselves; all we have is the present moment, our time will come and go.
While we are here, how can we make the very best of this marvelous treasure that we call life? 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 — nobody is immune. I’m not going to waste any time living anybody’s life other than my 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. It’s time we quiet the noise and listen.
In the Fight
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.
Standing on the cliff looking out into the dusk-grey sky, I could see rainclouds and lightning striking the water far into the distance. Beyond my veil of perception thousands of miles away, through a threshold of the unknown, people are fighting 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, an enemy? We are human beings who break barriers and defy odds. This too shall pass, we’ll remember how we came together as one. We will never forget how we came together and won.