If you have the chance in your life (lucky, yet painful) to walk into virgin forest—that confident silence, empty below, wide and wondrous above—and later walk out of it, and if you then enter again the forests you know—I mean the forests you used to think were forests—you might notice they don’t seem so anymore. These familiar “woods,” made of the young beginnings of trees, most of them no older than we are, scramble and tangle their way upward trying to reinvent the concept of forest with no elders left to guide them after the last clearcut, brushy with desperate growth. There’s no space for breath. And you realize that in the whole rest of the world, even where there aren’t any buildings at the moment, the earth is just frantically trying to recover itself from denuding. From constant trauma. That’s all it is— the thing you thought was “forest,” the forest of today. Just a rough, temporary scab. Just the chaos of ongoing emergency.
That’s what we’re surrounded by, and so maybe that’s what we feel life to be: just youthful, constant crisis.
Do you think the beings who are older than we are— I mean ALL the other beings in the world, that is— might shake their heads at us? As you would at a teenager who alternately charms you into submission and drives you crazy? Because maybe that’s all we are, humanity. Just a teenager rebelling against the confines of life and death. Disrespecting our elders. Desperate for meaning. No sense of responsibility. Constantly changing, experimenting, challenging every traditional ecosystem, every natural law.
You know how teenagers are. They fascinate, and they rock your world for good and for ill. They’re so passionate, so endearing, so intensely alive, so fierce in their feeling, that they suck all the attention out of a room. It feels as if they’re the most important ones—they feel that way, they feel they can take on the world. They hardly know what to do with their own power, and yet they think they know everything. They think they don’t need anyone, that they’re completely independent of everyone else.
And they’re so stupid and greedy and selfish and aggravating. But so brilliant, so creative. They hold the original fire inside them. Sometimes it feels like they invented fire itself. Isn’t there hope for them still? Don’t you want to know what they will become, one day?
Maybe everyone else, all the older beings, are thinking what a beautiful young person humanity is, at heart: how much potential! If only humanity will pull itself together! If only it will keep from falling into addiction and bad habits before it’s too late. Before it destroys itself and everyone else. After all, isn’t adolescence the most beautiful time of life, in a way? It’s the only time when we get to look darkness in the face, with that particular rawness, that insistent question. Dear humanity, what is your deep, tormenting question? Because counseling is available all around you! Look up and the treetops seem to cover you, a jigsaw of comfort you recognize in your bones. Even the young ones are bigger than you still. They cocoon you, they root you in, all over the world wrapping you in their arms against the earth, so that you are not bare all the time to the open universe and the terrifying dream of limitless power. So that you don’t float away.
You know how teenagers are. We talk so tough. But we need someone to look up to. We are still only children, needing an ancient pattern of green leaves over our heads that feels sensical to our souls, a grownup example of integrity we can believe in.