A Hundred Years from Now

N O V E M B E R   2 0 1 7

There are increasing signs that a hundred years from now life on earth will have taken a serious turn for the worse. We won’t be here of course, but our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will. What will they have to face?

Thinking of the future with grim expectations like this can be disturbing and scary, like imagining the sword of Damocles swinging from a thread above us. We’ve started having bad dreams hundred yearsabout what might happen — visions of nations collapsing, citizens armed and dangerous, the coasts flooding, forests burning, dust blowing over dried-out farmland, starving refugees taking what they can find, the last elephants shot for meat, the seas dying, dystopian mega-cities swarming with faceless strangers, replicants, sex robots, aimless wars fought for nothing… We keep dreaming these things. We see them beginning now and we hate ourselves for what we’re doing.

I want to be able to say it’s not too late. I want to believe that these dreams, becoming every day more real, will scare us awake and with the shock of waking we will remember what matters to us and what kind of world we want to leave for our children, and theirs, and theirs.

But even in waking, the dark dreams linger. We feel powerless, too insignificant to effect the changes that are needed. That’s one of the dreams too, our powerlessness. But like the rest of our anxious dreams, it doesn’t have to be true. We’re not powerless.

I’ve spent much of my life working on projects for positive social change — practical, grassroots efforts in cooperation with others — and this kind of citizen-activist work is an essential part of the power we have. But I want to point here to a deeper power, a power without which all of our hard work would be aimless and short-lived, a power that each of us has right now and can put to use at any time.

Behind every act of kindness, behind every plea for justice, behind every move we make to take apart the structures of violence that undergird human societies, there is something clear and luminous. That clear luminosity is our love, our love for what matters to us. It’s what we stand for; it’s what gets us on our feet, again and again. It’s not exactly an emotion; it’s deeper than that. Ultimately it’s not even about loving specific things that matter to us — it includes that, but goes beyond. Love itself is what matters. It’s the very current of life arising in and through us, and is at the heart of whatever power we have to heal the world.

I realize this begins to sound blurry and impractical — words like “love” can do that. We’ve become accustomed to thinking that only actions that produce measureable change in the “real world” will make a difference. As someone with a practical bent myself, I can appreciate that sentiment. But the longer I live the more I sense there are other realities or “energies” at work shaping what happens. What we call “love” is one of them, perhaps the most important.

I’ve come to believe that the more we love, the more love lives in the world. My sense is that love is a kind of light that radiates from us, an invisible light with the power to penetrate and leaven the density of the world. If this is true, then we are not powerless. Even if our life situation doesn’t allow us to become actively engaged in service of some sort, we can serve. We can love.

What does that mean? What can we love? My feeling is it doesn’t much matter what we love, we just need to love what we love. We need to keep discovering what that is. For example, we could start close in, discovering the love we feel for the warmth of our bodies, or our love for our breathing, or for our capacity to see. We can love the simple things of the world, love the way morning light spreads across the breakfast table, love the feel of our feet on a path, love the company of a dear friend or the sound of children at play. Love all the people we meet today, despite their flaws. We can sit under a tree and love the roots and branches and the sky. Love the babies being born right now, love their mothers, love their fathers, love everyone who will help them throughout their lives. Love the people near and far who are suffering, who are oppressed, whose lives are hurt by other people’s selfishness and fear. Love all the kindness everywhere, the generosity and self-sacrifice. Love the miracle of loving itself. As Sufi teacher Fazal Inayat-Khan said, "You can always love more."

Imagine that every moment we love, we are enlivening the world with that love. The world gets lighter, freer, because of our loving. Imagine that love is a current that can warm the heart of things, that can dispel the density and ignorance of the dark futures we fear. Love is a living force, a power, even when it is does not seem to energize specific action.

We live in anxious times, and there is no denying the storm clouds that are gathering around us. I am not suggesting we ignore that reality. I am simply saying that the future world depends on our keeping the flame of our love burning. Even if our bad dreams come to pass and the world has to endure that long darkness, if the flame of our love is still burning it will help guide our descendants onward.

I remember a moment that occurred several years ago that touched me deeply with this lesson. I was in Gaza, interviewing a Hamas leader and others as part of my work with a project called the Nonviolent Peaceforce (www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org). Even though I was prepared for it, the condition of life for the million and a half people locked in that small piece of land shocked me. Blasted buildings, warrens of little streets strewn with trash, extreme poverty, and a pervading sense of despair. It was our bad dreams manifest.

By the time I left Gaza, driving up the coast road in a beat-up taxi, I was thoroughly depressed. And then, as I gazed out the taxi window, something up in the air caught my eye. It was a kite! Brightly colored, dancing in the shore wind. Then I saw another, and another. Children on the beach were flying kites! Suddenly that vision of kites flying up from the dismal conditions of Gaza blew through my depression. My heart took a breath. I saw that as long as the children fly kites in the free air, as long as their love for the wind and the kites and the play and each other is alive, there is hope.

Lovers find secret places inside this violent world
where they make transactions with beauty.

Reason says, Nonsense.
I have walked and measured the walls here.
There are no places like that.

Love says, There are.

                                    — Rumi