Do you ever feel dizzy, succumb to a sense of vertigo when you attempt to consider the world in its entirety, the span and compass of human experience both across the globe today and reaching into the mists of history? Small boys and girls in face paint and bowl haircuts dancing in glades in the Amazon, naked and tattooed, eyes large and alien and impossible to relate to if you’re from a city like New York. Hassidic Jews bowing before the Wailing Wall, dressed in funereal black, curls falling to their lapels, broad rimmed hats, chanting before God. Old women washing out their dentures in the river Ganges as the sun beats all to hammered copper, their crimson sari’s the color of dusty blood, the water before them Nesquik brown, cows wandering along the great stone steps, men soaping themselves down, others bowing and preying, filling up teakettles of gold which they then pour back out, chanting and chanting and chanting. The pyramids of Giza, eroded to roughness and crudity, the towering pillars of Ankor Wat, trellised by tree roots and backdropped by irrepressible jungle. The Chinese Terracotta Army, buried with the first Emperor over two thousand years ago, standing for all eternity gathering dust. The Dead Sea scrolls. Masai warriors leaping as they dance, surging up into the sky with an agility and bounce to put NBA players to shame. Aging Japanese yakuza sitting in baths charged with electric currents, their skin no less electric with full body washes of ink depicting fearsome warriors, koi, dragons and lotuses. The endless surge of traffic through New York City, the thousands laboring in massive warehouses in India, Bangladesh, anywhere, making everything from keyboards to belts, repeating the same simple, soul crushing task for twelve hours a day. Machu Pichu. Ephesus. Auschwitz. Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 9/11, the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, the Black Hole of Calcutta, Vlad Dracul littering the road before Mehmed the II with tens of thousands of impaled bodies, all of them his own villagers and towns people.
What a world. From the soaring, endless forest of skyscrapers of Sao Paulo to the slums of Mumbai. From the quiet towns of Ohio to the huts of isolated villages in Kenya. Inuits and Mongolians, Austalian Aborigines to Peruvian descendants of the Incas. Revolutions, wars, monks, nuns, temples, churches, mosques, synagogues. Yahweh, Ganesha, Coatzacotl, Thor, Buddha, Zoroaster, Mithras. Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, London.
And you? Where in this mad, wheeling, catastrophic, euphoric, bloody minded and endlessly fecund tapestry do you fit in? Can you encompass this world we live in, the highs and lows, the treachery and redemptions, the small lives and the large, the millions living in favelas and the few thousands in penthouses?
We have perhaps 80 years on this planet.
If you haven’t, watch the film Baraka.