Message of the Day: Personal Growth, Environment, Human Rights, Population, War, Hunger, Disease, Economic Opportunity
Earthrise, Apollo 8, astronaut William Anders, Christmas Eve, 1968
Updated: “When Bill Anders took this photograph from the Apollo spacecraft on Christmas Eve in 1968, our relationship with the world changed forever”
–Joe Moran, The Guardian, December 21, 2018
Today is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, accompanied by a full moon in the same 24 hours of this magical day when we begin to move from the darkest day of the year to increasing light.
And in the Southern Hemisphere, the reverse. When six months ago to the day on the Summer Solstice in the North we began our reflections on the end of civilization as we knew it.
These reflections will continue. But for today a reflection on one of the most unique and influential days in the millions of years of life on earth—an exclamation point at the end of 1968, and an appropriate endpoint to this 50thanniversary of that momentous year, applicable to the end of 2018 as well. And to everything in the history of the universe, past, present and future, literally.
Given the day and the season, this is also the completion of our holiday message this year.
We began a reflection on the holidays a month ago on November 21 by looking back at the start of reflections on the season five years ago.
Here’s how those reflections ended on December 23, 2013:
It makes no difference what faith or philosophy you follow, as long as it is based on living the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to provide basic rights and basic needs for all. On paying the price to live for the good of others, the definition of leading a meaningful life.
We said this in part because people can range from being certain that there is a God to being certain that there isn’t. There have been and are people in both camps who we deeply respect and who have done great good. Paradoxically, at times, people who take these positions appear to fail to see their own fundamentalism while accurately critiquing it in the positions of others. This would be a long and interesting discussion—at the end of which we would take the position that it is an utter waste of time—no, worse, an exercise in narcissistic emotional attachment, since no human can know such things with certainty, but can only define them as words or concepts for their own personal growth which for any number of reasons are healthy or unhealthy for them and help or hinder their contribution to others and the common good.
If you believe in equality, in providing a good life and human rights for all, and act on it, then you have just given the only constructive definition of any faith or philosophy. Otherwise, whatever you call it, it’s destructive. And it will, by definition of everything said above, never be completely on the plus side. The growth part is to keep getting better, if inch by bloody inch, and sometimes with great and necessary leaps.
We have often revisited the words of Bobby Kennedy on the night Martin Luther King, Jr was killed, shortly before he too was killed, quoting Aeschylus two and a half millennia before. At the end of this 50th anniversary of these great tragedies, we could not overstate the value of revisiting and repeating every word, as an ongoing mantra, of Kennedy’s unrehearsed, from the heart, remarks that night informing a large crowd in the Indianapolis ghetto of King’s death. Tragedy, compassion, love, truth and growth. We grow, against our will, through the “awful grace of God.” You could also call it reality. Call it what you will, a reality far stronger than the will of any of us to stay on a path of self-centeredness finally keeps forcing us to face that reality, one way or another.
When Franklin Roosevelt began the process of officially proclaiming the goals of the allies in The Atlantic Charter in defeating fascism which presaged the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), thanks in the main to Eleanor Roosevelt, which we covered last week, he was secretly meeting with Winston Churchill in August 1941, as we’ve also covered at length.
Churchill purportedly wanted to appeal to Roosevelt’s heart to get him to move faster in fully entering the fight against the Nazis. He didn’t need to—Roosevelt had been steadily moving as fast as he could. Churchill, however, was understandably more than anxious. He hoped to appeal to FDR with music at a service from their common Anglican roots, finishing with “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, in this case to save the world. They were not all Christians, of course, although it was by far the majority practiced religion in the west, and the song had an odious imperial aspect as well as a progressive association, just as Christianity had often had a destructive or progressive impact. But FDR had just told Churchill the war would be fought for freedom for everyone—empires were done. So, when he purportedly whispered to Churchill “we are, you know” in response to the song, his meaning was clear, just as acting in a “Christian” manner was a phrase that had entered secular culture at that point in often simply meaning doing good.
We’ve covered all the ways that FDR did not act in this way. But as before, in the main, he, and his ultimate conscience, Eleanor, had an impossible to overstate revolutionary impact of radical change for good.
Churchill hated the idea of losing the British Empire, but he had little choice but to publicly agree in The Atlantic Charter given the tide of anti-colonialism already rising and the de-facto reality of America as the new world power. He was also replaced at war’s end by the most progressive labour government in British history. One of the first acts of independence from colonization just after the end of World War Two, following decades of Gandhi and others fighting for it, was India, the single largest decolonization of a population in history. The partition at the same moment creating Muslim majority Pakistan separate from Hindu majority India was also one of the great traumas in modern history which reverberates still. We wrote at length about this and what has occurred since on the 70thanniversary of the above a year ago August. We’ll revisit this in a future post.
India, the largest democracy in the world, is about to become the largest nation on earth. Pakistan is one of the largest, and Bangladesh, which split from it in 1971, also among the largest. Places where all the issues of basic needs and rights being sustainably achieved or not for the single largest number of people on earth may well have the single largest impact on the future of life on earth (which is not to exclude other places or contexts for many reasons from having the single largest impact, or to diminish the fact that in the end, the global impact is caused by just that—the cumulative global impact of these issues).
In 1948, India and Pakistan voted along with nearly all nations to adopt the UDHR.
As we’ve said before, with horrid exceptions, and in spite of the Cold War, progress toward the goals of the UHDR was made for many years, seemingly accelerated after the end of the Cold War in 1989 in some ways, but with regression setting in.
The momentum of change had already been blunted by the bullets of 1968 in the US, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia crushing of the Prague Spring, the hundreds of students killed by the Mexican government days before the Olympics began. Just to name a few of the convulsions around the world that year.
We’ve written much of 1968 this year. But we’ve barely touched it.
At the end of 1968, for most people who were conscious at the time, it was as if the planet was in collective shock.
Then, something happened we could not have imagined until we saw it.
Fifty years ago today, the astronauts of Apollo 8 launched to circle the moon.
On Christmas Eve, they saw, as did all of humanity, for the first time, the earth rising over the moon, as one of them spoke the beginning words from the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible, with similar words to be found in the Muslim Quran, and similar sentiments in numerous religions and philosophies. In the end, the world was good, the universe was endless, its moral arc bending toward justice.
Here’s Dennis Overbye in The New York Times today in Apollo 8’s Earthrise: The Shot Seen Round the World:
Half a century ago today, a photograph from the moon helped humans rediscover Earth.
This is where we live. In space. On a marble fortified against bottomless blackness by a shell of air and color, fragile and miraculous as a soap bubble.
In 1968, we Earthlings knew that already, sort of. But that abstract notion became visceral on Christmas Eve of that year. While scouting landing spots on the moon, the astronauts of Apollo 8 — Frank Borman, William A. Anders and James A. Lovell, Jr. — spied the shiny blue Earth rising over the ash-colored lunar mountains like a cosmic smiley face. That image, transmitted from space, went on to capture the imagination of the world: Earthrise.
Major Anders had the job of photographing the lunar landscape. When Earth rose, a robot would have kept on clicking off pictures of the craters. Indeed the astronauts briefly joked about whether they should break off and aim their cameras up. “Hey don’t take that, it’s not scheduled,” Commander Borman said. Then, like good humans, they grabbed cameras and clicked away.
“Earthrise” did not start environmentalism, but it became the movement’s icon, a gift of perspective at the end of a long, dark year. If you were young, 1968 was the best of times and the worst of times. The Beatles were still together, and “Star Trek” was on TV. You could get high and watch “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the movies. These cultural facets were products of a decade when technological optimism had reigned: you could wage war against communists in Southeast Asia and against poverty and discrimination at home, and conquer space on the side.
But by the end of the decade, pessimism was ascendant. There was no peace or end in sight in Vietnam, nor on the streets at home, roiling with protests, assassinations and riots. In space, the United States trailed the Soviet Union in a peaceful but symbolic technological competition.
The launch of Sputnik, the first Earth-orbiting satellite, startled the world in 1957, and America had been struggling to catch up ever since. President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to landing on the moon before the end of the 1960s, but in January of 1967 a fire in an Apollo capsule killed three astronauts, delaying the project and threatening the deadline.
In the meantime, the Soviets had begun sending uncrewed spaceships around the moon. In April of 1968, intelligence agencies warned that the enemy was gearing up to try to send a man around the moon as early as that autumn.
But by the end of 1968, the United States had pulled even and taken the lead in the race to land humans on the moon. That goal was achieved by Apollo 11 on July 20 of the following year — an event that will be widely celebrated on its 50th anniversary in 2019. But a proper observance begins with Apollo 8’s Christmas Eve loop around the moon: the first indication that the Americans might get there first.
(This event, too, is being widely celebrated, in books such as Robert Kurson’s “Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon,” and the Nova documentary “Apollo’s Daring Mission,” which airs Dec. 26 on PBS.)
[M.G. Lord’s book review in the Times linked above makes the point that Kurson’s otherwise excellent book skirts the issues of an all-male, all-white NASA mission control or the relationships of former Nazi scientists like Wernher von Braun to the program. While already well-known and well-critiqued, she’s right about always keeping context complete or the formula for historic memory loss is reinforced. She fails to mention, however, that by 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission, there were women players such as a key software engineer and the first woman flight controller, nor that the US military started using women as human computers in the 30’s, and black women in the 40’s, continued by NASA, virtually erasing their historic contributions until a popular movie like Hidden Figures began to reveal them to general public consciousness. In her review of Kurson’s book, Lord correctly concludes about what was missing: “Against a dark background, the triumph of Apollo 8 would not appear any less radiant.”]
Apollo 8’s original mission was to carry a crew of three around Earth, in a command module that had been redesigned and rebuilt since one of its predecessors burned up on the launchpad in 1967. The mission, slotted for December, would mark the first crewed flight of the mighty Saturn 5 rocket.
In those days, NASA’s leaders were still willing to gamble — and so, in August, the plan changed. Historians disagree whether the agency truly feared being beaten to the moon that year or was just keen to get back on schedule. In either case, Commander Borman was called into a closed-door meeting: Would he like to go around the moon in December? It was an offer no astronaut could refuse, never mind that no one had flown on a Saturn 5 yet.
Within weeks the prospective mission had morphed further, from simply looping around the moon to braking and completing an orbit around it. This was a far riskier venture: if the command module rocket failed to fire and break them out of orbit, the astronauts would never come home.
In September, while NASA pondered the mission, the Soviets kept busy, launching a rocket, Zond 5, around the moon and safely returning its crew of worms and tortoises. The Apollo 8 flight was not approved until October, after a crewed flight of Apollo 7 had tested the newly rebuilt command module. On Nov. 11, NASA publicly announced that it would be shooting for the moon the following month.
By then, Zond 6 was on its way — uncrewed, but who knew what might be next. “The September Zond flight scared NASA that the Russians might one-up them one more time by doing it again just before Apollo 8, this time with a cosmonaut aboard,” Roger Launius, NASA’s former chief historian, said recently in an email. (Zond 6 crashed on returning to Earth.)
Apollo 8 blasted off on Dec. 21. Things did not go smoothly at first. On the way to the moon, Commander Borman became terribly sick, forcing his crewmates to dodge specks of vomit and other bodily excretions, according to Mr. Kurson’s book. They chose not to tell Mission Control about it until he had improved, fearing that the mission would be aborted. All of Earth held its breath when the spacecraft went out of view around the moon, entering radio silence, for the engine burn that would put it into lunar orbit.
Seventeen hours later, on Christmas Eve, what NASA has described as the biggest broadcast audience in history was listening when the opening lines of Genesis came crackling down from the heavens.
“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth,” Major Anders began.
“And God saw that it was good,” Commander Borman said.
I had tears in my eyes when I heard that. At Mission Control, the rocket engineers all began to cry, according to Mr. Kurson’s book. Like I said, it had been a long year.
It would take a little while longer for the world to realize that Apollo 8’s greatest legacy would be a single photograph of home. The residents of the only known inhabited planet in the universe would “know the place for the first time” (to borrow from T.S. Eliot). Sent to examine the Moon, Major Anders later said, humans instead discovered Earth.
A holiday present for the ages. Alas, it didn’t come with an instruction manual; we’re still working on that.
. . .
Next, we go to an article today in The Guardian (it’s Friday night as we write, now Saturday the 22nd in London), a luminous multi-faceted exposition on the impact of the Apollo 8 photo by Joe Moran, Earthrise: the story behind our planet’s most famous photo:
When Bill Anders took this photograph from the Apollo spacecraft on Christmas Eve in 1968, our relationship with the world changed forever
This photograph is now half a century old. It was taken by the astronaut Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968 as the Apollo 8 spacecraft rounded the dark side of the moon for a fourth time. When Earth came up over the horizon, Anders scrabbled for his Hasselblad camera and started clicking.
In that pre-digital age, five days passed. The astronauts returned to Earth; the film was retrieved and developed. In its new year edition, Life magazine printed the photo on a double-page spread alongside a poem by US poet laureate James Dickey: “And behold / The blue planet steeped in its dream / Of reality, its calculated vision shaking with the only love.”
This was not quite the first look at our world from space. Lunar probes had sent back crudely scanned images of a crescent Earth shrouded in cloud. A satellite had even taken a colour photo that, in the autumn of 1968, the radical entrepreneur Stewart Brand put on the cover of his first Whole Earth Catalog. The next edition, in spring 1969, used Anders’s photograph, by now known as Earthrise.
Brand’s catalogue was a DIY manual for the Californian counterculture, a crowdsourced compendium of life hacks about backpacking, home weaving, tantra art and goat husbandry. Its one-world, eco ethos was a weird offshoot of the macho tech of the space age – those hunks of aluminium run on rocket fuel and cold war rivalries. But then looking back at Earth was itself a weird offshoot of the moon missions. It just happened that Apollo 8’s aim – to locate the best lunar landing sites – needed high-res photography, which was also good for taking pictures of planets a quarter of a million miles away.
Brand was one of a group of environmental activists who felt that an image of “Spaceship Earth” would bring us all together in watchfulness and care for our planetary craft and its precious payload. “Earthrise”, though, did more than just corroborate this gathering mood. With its incontestable beauty, a beauty that had needed no eye of a beholder for billions of years, it caught the human heart by surprise.
The Earth pictured in Earthrise looks unlike traditional cartographic globes that mark out land and sea along lines of latitude and longitude. Slightly more than half the planet is illuminated. The line dividing night and day severs Africa. Earth looks as if it is floating alone in the eternal night of space, each part awaiting its share of the life-giving light of the sun.
Apart from a small brown patch of equatorial Africa, the planet is blue and white. At first glance it seems to have the sheen of blue-veined marble. But look closer and that spherical perfection softens a little. Earth divulges its true state as oceanic and atmospheric, warmly welcoming and achingly vulnerable.
The blue is light scattered by the sea and sky. The white is the gaseous veneer that coats our planet and lets us live. You can just make out the “beautiful blue halo”, with its gentle shift from tender blue to purple black, that Yuri Gagarin noticed on his first low-orbit flight. That halo is our fragile biosphere, and is all that stands between us and the suffocating void.
Fifty years ago the biochemist James Lovelock was working for Nasa and developing a theory of Earth as a single, self-regulating superorganism. It had reached a homeostatic state conducive to life, he believed, against odds as long as “surviving unscathed a drive blindfold through rush-hour traffic”. Lovelock’s theory, later named Gaia after the Greek goddess of the Earth, makes a special kind of sense when you gaze at our planet from the moon.
The poet Archibald MacLeish caught it best for a piece in the New York Times on Christmas Day 1968 – oddly, when only the Apollo 8 crew had seen Earthrise. All MacLeish had to go on was the live television broadcast by the astronauts on 23 December, when Jim Lovell had pointed his camera out of the cabin window and captured a coarse monochrome image of Earth from 175,000 miles away. “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats,” MacLeish wrote, “is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold.”
MacLeish had jumped the gun by a few days; other writers had anticipated this sight centuries earlier. In his fantastical narrative The Man in the Moon(1638), the author and divine Francis Godwin has his hero fly to the moon in a machine harnessed to a flock of wild swans. As he ascends into space, the world’s landmasses diminish, not just in size but in significance – Africa is “like unto a pear that had a morsel bitten out upon one side of him” – while the ocean seems “like a great shining brightness” and the whole Earth “masks itself with a kind of brightness like another moon”. Godwin grasped that from space Earth would look terraqueous, and far more aqua than terra.
In Jules Verne’s Around the Moon (1870), three adventurers, fired to the moon by a giant space gun, look back at Earth and see “its delicate crescent suspended in the deep blackness of the sky” and “its light, rendered blueish by the thickness of its atmosphere”. When the narrator of HG Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) sees Earth from a spaceship, its three-dimensionality starkly reveals itself in the dance of sunlight and shadow on its surface. “The land below us was twilight and vague,” he writes, “but westward the vast grey stretches of the Atlantic shone like molten silver.” These early sci-fi writers guessed correctly that, from space, a world made of water and air would shimmer as if it were alive. They saw Earthrise before the astronauts did.
Fanciful space flights, full of backward glances at our world, occur in very ancient texts. The lesson is always the same: don’t imagine you matter. The vastness of the world, which renders your own life so little, is itself a speck of dust adrift in the vast cathedral of space. Cicero’s Republic imagines the dead Roman general Scipio Africanus, hero of the second Punic war, appearing to his grandson, Scipio Aemilianus, in a dream. The younger Scipio finds himself in the heavens gazing down on Carthage, which he will later destroy in the third Punic war. The world has shrunk to the point where he is “scornful of our empire, which covers only a single point upon its surface”.
“O how ridiculous are the boundaries of mortals!” wrote Seneca, imagining Earth from the same cosmic perspective. A fable by the second-century satirist Lucian of Samosata tells of a “sky-man” who flies to the moon. Looking back at Earth, he sees “how little there was for our friends the rich to be proud of … The widest-acred of them all had not a single Epicurean atom under cultivation.”
The ancients knew how minuscule our preoccupations would seem from afar. The whole earthers of the 1960s thought that photographic proof might help us to see this obvious truth in new ways. Border disputes, imperial wars, the enslavement of other peoples, the spoiling of the planet for selfish and ephemeral gain: all would be exposed as what the cosmologist Carl Sagan called “the squabbles of mites on a plum”.
And yet, to a mite, that plum is everything. The power of Earthrise as an image derived partly from its being a picture of the plum taken by a mite – one of the first three to escape the plum’s gravity. With the brown-grey desert of the moon as contrast, the Earth shone as if alert to its singularity. As Marina Benjamin writes in her book Rocket Dreams (2003), this made it “difficult not to imbue the planet with exemplariness”.
Earthrise was edited for anthropocentric ends. The Apollo 8 crew saw Earth to the side of the moon, not above it, and to them it seemed tiny. Anders compared it to being “in a darkened room with only one visible object, a small blue-green sphere about the size of a Christmas-tree ornament”. Nasaflipped the photo so that Earth seemed to be rising above the moon’s horizon, and then cropped it to make Earth look bigger and more focal. Earthrise was an Earth selfie, taken by earthlings.
Since 1968 the earthlings have had many visual reminders of their cosmic irrelevance. Their home planet has been demoted to what Sagan called the “pale blue dot”, the tiny fleck of Earth, no bigger than a pixel, in a photo of our galaxy taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 probe from 3.7bn miles away.
But we prefer to ignore the evidence. In our daily lives we are all flat earthers. We carry on thinking that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Nor is our stewardship of the planet any less culpably forgetful. We still squabble over the juiciest bits of the plum; we still fight and die over its pinprick empires; the rich and powerful seem more ludicrously puffed-up than ever.
Did the 22-year-old Donald Trump, when he first saw Earthrise, feel awed and humbled by human smallness? I’m guessing no. Our species is just as venal and measly-minded as it was half a century ago. Perhaps more so, now that the technology that excites us is not the rocket blasting us into deep space, but the computer coding that blasts us through a wormhole into cyberspace: a human-built universe composed of our own self-admiring obsessions, exhilarating and exhausting enough to fill a lifetime.
Still, Earthrise must have changed something. What’s seen can’t be unseen. Perhaps it flits across your mind when you open Google Earth and see that familiar virtual globe gently spinning. Just before you click and drag to fly yourself to some portion of the world no bigger than an allotment, you may briefly take in, with a little stomach lurch, that this slowly revolving sphere holds close to 8 billion people, living out lives as small and short and yet meaningful as the universe is infinite and eternal and yet meaningless. On that gigantic, glistening marble, mottled with blue-white swirls, lies everyone.
. . .
And now to NPR’s story today in their special year-long series, “1968: How We Got here” (we recommend going through all the articles of the last year), by Russell Lewis, 1968: When Apollo 8 First Orbited The Moon And Saw The Earth Rise In Space:
Fifty years ago Friday, on Dec. 21, 1968, Apollo 8 lifted off, marking the first time humans left low Earth orbit and flew to the moon.
This was the second manned spaceflight of the Apollo program, and it was a nerve-wracking and remarkable flight that captured the world’s attention. The mission capped a difficult and conflict-filled year in the U.S., offering a rare moment when people could feel good about their planet.
Any trip to space is risky. But a mission to the moon, nearly a quarter-million miles from Earth, was something else. There were many things that could go wrong and many unknowns about this first trip. But on Christmas Eve 1968, the capsule made it to lunar orbit.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union had spent the 1960s locked in the space race, and getting to the moon first was a thrilling achievement for most Americans.
But 1968 was an especially turbulent year in the United States. The Vietnam War was raging. Both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. Protests roiled the Democratic National Convention.
During the six-day mission those things seemed to fade away as people were captivated by what they saw and heard.
On Christmas Eve, on what was at the time the most watched TV broadcast, crew members Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders read a passage from the Book of Genesis:
“For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.’ ”
There was also an unexpected moment during the 20 hours they circled the moon. As they focused on the lunar surface below, something else caught the crew’s attention.
“Oh my God, look at that picture over there! It’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!” exclaimed Anders.
Anders rushed to snap a picture of the Earth, rising above the barren lunar landscape. The “Earthrise” image remains one of the most famous ever taken in space, and Anders says it forever changed the way people think about where we live.
“The only color that we could see and contrasted by this really unfriendly, stark lunar horizon, made me think, ‘You know, we really live on a beautiful little planet,’ ” he says.
It wasn’t just the crew of Apollo 8 that reflected during the flight. Author Robert Kurson wrote about the mission in a new book, Rocket Men. He says something unusual happened afterward: “At the end of 1968, when Apollo 8 splashed down, you saw hippies hugging old men in the streets. Something that was unthinkable just six days before that.”
Kurson says that with the Apollo 8 mission, the political difficulties of 1968 washed away, for a while. In an interview with NPR earlier this year, Borman, the mission commander, noticed the same thing. “The only telegram I remember out of all the thousands we got after Apollo 8 said, ‘Thank you Apollo 8 you saved 1968,’ ” he said.
Borman says there are a lot of parallels between 1968 and 2018, specifically how divided the country is — the anger, frustration and mistrust. He wishes there was something on the horizon today like Apollo 8 to bring people together.
. . .
There is something.
Each of us.
A reminder, by the way, that 1968 was not the end. Just one example of a historical positive in 1968 was Shirley Chisholm becoming the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. She represented New York’s 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
The 1970’s in many ways (while as always, terrible things happened too) were another apex of progress in the US and globally.
But many nightmares followed the end of 1968 that wouldn’t have, if…
And what the losses of that year may mean for the human story coming to an unhappy end or moving to a brighter future remains to be seen.
What we did see on Christmas Eve 1968 was something that changed us completely.
For those who were there, take a moment, clear your mind.
For those who weren’t there, take a moment, clear your mind.
Never before in all of human history had we seen the earth from the outside looking in, our home, a beautiful speck in the endless universe.
We are, it seems impossibly, about to enter the final year of the second decade of a new millennium still in its infancy.
The year 2000 seems like yesterday and like another millennium ago all at once.
Here’s the start of our holiday commentary in 2000, “The First Holiday Season Of The New Millennium”:
One year ago, we were celebrating the last holiday season of the last millennium and the countdown to the year 2000. Now we are celebrating the first holiday season of the new millennium. Remember how strange and wondrous the sound of the year 2000 seemed? The sound of 2001 already rings with more familiarity, the adjustment to beginning our years with the number 2 having had a year to take effect. Still, the idea of finishing the year 2000 and beginning 2001 feels like the second stage of launching the new era. Both the holiday seasons of 1999 and 2000 have created echoes in our internal landscapes of melancholy and hope. We have long seen the year 2000 as a metaphor for the need to evolve to the next level, a kind of last chance line of demarcation after which the consequences of not changing anachronistic behavior personally and globally would become potentially catastrophic.
And then the unimaginable happened in unimaginable ways to this moment.
Or not unimaginable when reading the above. The last chance line was clear enough. It often seems now that melancholy has overwhelmed hope instead of being in a natural balance with it.
We knew it could go either way–still do–but we really didn’t believe that almost two decades later over half the children in the world would be abused, hungry or sick, millions still dying every year as a result, hundreds of millions harmed, inequality worse in many ways, our environment heading toward oblivion, weapons of mass destruction less in control, weapons of mass distraction out of control, and the global structures and norms of civilization, flawed as they were and are, at risk of coming apart altogether.
And yet. We’re still here. Hope survives as we write. On the darkest day before the next day and each thereafter with more light.
We concluded the 2000 holiday commentary with the following, and have done so a number of times since. Here it is, as our conclusion today:
We wish you love, courage, honesty, humility, compassion, justice, truth, growth, accountability, amends, forgiveness, action, healing and peace–and the wisdom to know that there is no difference between them.
- “What Time Is the A.F.C. Championship Game?”, The New York Times
- “In South Sudan, stigma and underfunding plague mental health care”, Al Jazeera News
- “Why Protests Are Raging Against Sudan’s Leader”, The Washington Post
- “The people want him gone but suddenly, Bashir has friends everywhere you look”, The East African
- “Analysis: Why Brexit isn’t all that different from the wall fight”, PBS NewsHour