Some people say our star is fading: the light of man and everything he has created, in its radical finitude, is slipping into the abyss, into the dark recesses of Sirius' shadow. Others, more poignantly, perhaps, say the Jesus question is fading, the need for salvation and its oil-painted and mosaicized dogma has submerged beneath a final wave. The brilliant brightness of human exploration is waning. Graduate students are writing lengthy tomes on the glosses of this thinker or that; they are writing entire theses on the root system of an obscure plant, on the retina development of an Amazonian reptile. We are fading.
The author of Ecclesiastes, who's body has been flung to the wind for so long there is some chance we are now inhaling him, saw as much: what is new under the sun? Are we not, we people of the latest surge, making the recycling of everything we do and are our primary creed? I know people who blush in admitting they do not recylce plastic. I know even fewer academics who blush in admitting they haven't had an original thought in an entire career of thinking.
We are transfixed by the butterfly effect. Absorbed by the notion that my little here and now can reorder the cosmos, change the weather, mean life or death for some unfortunate on the dark side of the globe. It gives one a sense of duty as well as a sense of guilt. But above all, it gives the sense of power that we so long to caress.
It has become difficult to distinguish the nightly news from the tabloid news. The death of a singing sensation rivets the civilized world - or at least its population that enjoys being photographed - and all the while the stars spin in the distant space without a care or a hoot for what we are up to, we processed, hurried things.
The notion that the Jesus question is fading does not strike me with the same panic that it once did. Nor does the notion that the whole human venture is fading. I am candidly glad to be alive with the people around me, locking doors and sipping beer. I am most certainly edified to be, as Annie Dillard put it, "on this side of the topsoil," but I somewhere before let go of the anxious desire to be around forever, to make things right and scold those who don't see it.
I just came from dinner with a friend who enjoys talking art and the subtle. We sat on a patio amongst families and young couples and aspiriing romantics, oblivious to their goings on and interests. And nevertheless, it was quite clear to me that I was unmistakenly among their number, in their differences of opinion and dress and color, if only because I happened to be inhaling similar air in the same century in a dimlit patio in St. Louis.
It well may be true that we are fading, and our religions and politics and celebrity-craze. While we dominate this spinning orb, we certainly dominate nothing else, and that nothing else is vast and unapolagetic.
The moral of all this, if there need be one at all, is to take it easy and smile once or twice at a passerby. To sit in the exhausting heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer and be enveloped by something that is much greater than oneself. The helpful reminder is always that I am but an absurdly small speck in the scheme of things. If that remark causes depression, then you need to get a grip. If it causes a sense of liberation and exhaltation, then you're on to being.