Dark Optimism

(with thanks to Shaun Chamberlin)

Why walk around half dead when we can bury you for $39.95? —Mortuary ad

dark cloud


y no means is Edgewood Wild an ode to dejection. On the contrary, I think you’ll find there’s much to enjoy here and take pleasure in. Still, we do live in troubling times and this calls for sober reflection…

What does it mean to be a young person in a time of intersecting crises, of biblical weather, of gathering darkness? For that matter, what does it mean to be the parents of a child in such times? Of course, it’s true that other people in other times have faced uncertain futures and, indeed, much worse.

Still, it does seem our fate and our fate alone to confront a future that refuses resolutely to beckon anywhere and everywhere all at once.

Depression, said Rollo May, rightly I think, is the inability to imagine a future for oneself. Trying to believe in a future in time of Climate Crisis is a lot like that. It’s like putting your foot in a leghold trap tied to a stone on a raft of sea ice melting in the sun, and then trying to whistle a happy tune about it.

In response, and especially as scientists and naturalists, we at Edgewood have felt compelled to ponder the underlying forces at work here, and have done so a very long time. Ultimately this pondering has prompted us to think deeply about our personal and collective relationship to the Living Earth. Some of the outcomes of this thinking are laid out here before you: Edgewood Blue.

To put this into words isn’t easy. Still, we could do worse that to mention our conviction that life is profoundly mysterious. By this we don’t mean the mystery that comes of not understanding; that’s ignorance, not mystery. What we’re pointing to, rather, is the kind of mystery that come of life being fundamentally unknowable.

To take a simple example near at hand, consider the fact, presumably true, that you grasp the essence of what we’re trying to say in this little essay. Now take a few moments to ponder the fact that you grasping our meaning. Go deeper, then deeper, then deeper still. Think clearly and it’s pretty likely you will realize that you have no idea how it’s possible to mentally “grasp” anything; nor is there a cognitive neurologist in the world who can enlighten you on this point (notwithstanding that there may be some who think they can). The fact of the matter is that cognition, right from the get-go, should simply not be possible in the world as we understand it.

We also hold, with many others, that science is unlikely in the extreme ever to plumb the depths of the mystery that is life. More than that, some of the insights into the quantum world make it more likely, not less, that there’s an intelligence behind life. To go much further than this is dangerous ground, but suffice it to say that the mystery that is life is not incompatible with the mystery to which many, at least in earlier times in our culture and still today in other cultures, would wish to designate as God.

We could do worse then than to believe in mystery; for mystery is always there, right in front of us, of beneath us, holding us up, whether we notice it or not, and simply cannot be gotten around if we pause long enough to look about us.

Actually, there’s another reason to believe in the mystery of life – quite apart from the fact that it’s there. Quite simply, believing in mystery opens a space for hope.

Not for the sake of saving the Living Earth should we believe. The Living Earth has taken care of itself for about four billion years, and will continue to do so long after we’re gone. Let us believe rather for our own precious sakes, because believing in the mystery of life is, after all, life-affirming. And because, most of all, what’s good for life in the short term is good for life in the long term, for those who come after.

Here then is some small counsel to consider. Nobody ever escaped a crisis by ignoring it, nor do we improve our chances by despairing of it. Instead, let’s take special care to teach our children to embrace the mystery of life and, while we’re at it, the beauty of the Living World – even if doing so breaks their hearts from time to time, as most certainly it will.