In Defense of the Fairies

There are four ways to view the relation of human and world, some being more beneficial to one's sanity and/or more faithful to reality than others.

The materialistic universes... 

Big human, small world: sometimes known as narcissism. The world is fairly dull, predictable, if not known then either easy to know or not worth knowing. The self is all important and the individual ego's perspective is privileged. The problems encountered in such a world can readily be solved by "common sense," by which one typically means what one believes to be the best course of action based on one's own values and principles.

Small human, small world: also known as pessimism and possibly cynicism, depending on how you approach it. Neatly packages the world into little categories and always deems it lacking, but sees nothing in either one's self
or in others that could answer those problems with real change.

The idealistic universes...

Big human, big world: The hero goes on an epic quest because no hero ever begins life as a hero, and yet there are always early indicators. Heracles killing the snakes in his infancy. Birth stories involving unusual parentage. But most of the great heroes are crippled by their pride. They inhabit a world filled with monsters and magic, and they meet it head on with courage, but too often, they trip over themselves and fall hard from the lofty heights. Furthermore, the world of the epics is built on the premise of the perpetual threat of war. There can be no peace where so many men go forth looking to prove themselves in battle.

Last of all, there is the small human in a big world. She shies away from the overweening pride of the heroes, but also rejects the gloom and doom of the pessimist. Humans have painfully fleeting life spans, and much of their lives are given over to uncertainty and grief. Even so, they may do their small work with cheerfulness and faith that there is more to the world than mere earth and stone. 

If I believe in fairies, it is to keep me humble while giving me strength to carry on. There is something worth fighting for, but that which we fight for fights with us, alongside us. There is more to this world than the breaths we take in this perpetual present. So why not let there be fairies?


Übungen und Arbeit

My voice is rusty this evening, and recently it feels like the worthwhile words--the juicy, salty, flavorful letters that Milo finds in the market at Dictionopolis--are hard to come by. I spend all day producing words and shaping words and restraining words. They are among the fundamental building blocks upon which so much of our work, our relationships, and our society are built. But sometimes they're not as pleasant as the ones that Milo sampled. Or perhaps (I am forgetting now) Milo did nibble on a letter that was a tad dry.

I saw the peregrine falcons that live on City Hall. In a city overflowing with human life, it is sometimes hard to catch sight of the animals that fill in the spaces that are leftover. The rooftops, the alleyways, and the great, hot, smelly out of doors. The streets often reek faintly (or less faintly) of piss and rotting trash. In the humid days of midsummer, the whole city pants against the heat as beads of sweat drip down and the persistent hum of air conditioning units nags around its ears like a particularly bloodthirsty mosquito.

But there were the falcons. They found room to nest, and they seized it as their own: great nest, querulous young, and all. Perhaps all those post-apocalyptic stories aren't so wrong when they fur all the broken down metropolises in an implacable onslaught of trees. Not that the mark of human life would be wiped out. The earth would remember us, would rightfully shake its fist at us, for all the poisons we'd leave behind. We are deists about God, but we forget that so much of our technology is not self-sustaining, would unleash destruction across the face of the planet if we were all to perish without taking steps to dispose of our nuclear reactors and our hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic waste. We, it seems, are somewhat less perfect, and so our creations must be forever guided by a final cause whose hand remains at the helm.

I used to think to myself, and sometimes still do, when I wanted to spend money that I should save, "Why would you cheat your future self? What has she done to deserve that?" And when I saw trash lying on the ground, I would say to myself, "Why not you? If not you, then someone will have to take care of it. There's no reason why it has to be someone else, when you're right here."

Sometimes I think we could all benefit from keeping those two thoughts close to the seat of our willpower. What if, instead of deliberately turning our eyes away from the future, we thought, "Why should future generations have to pay for my laziness, just because it takes a few extra minutes to scrape the peanut butter out of this glass jar to recycle it? Why should the animals and the land have to absorb toxins, just so I can have a little more convenience? And why not start now? Why wait until tomorrow? Perhaps tomorrow it will be too late." Perhaps it is already too late, and all of our yesterday selves have come to their lesson only to find that it will be taught with a stick rather than a lecture. We are bad at acting toward ends that are outside of ourselves and outside of the present moment, if those two can even be distinguished from one another (but that's a separate story).

It was funny though, that after all this time of wanting to see them, the day I finally saw the falcons they were fighting. Screeching and carrying on like two middle-aged women fighting over a lamp at a bargain sale, only instead of a lamp, one of them had breakfast in its talons. True Philadelphians. Maybe the animals aren't that far behind us. Maybe we haven't outrun them after all.