Today is, in the Western Christian tradition, Holy Saturday. It is a day when no liturgies are observed, no vestments worn, no antependia adorn altars or pulpits. It is the Great Silence in which nothing is to be said, nothing can be said, in which there are no words, no noise. No activity is to disturb. There is nothing except dead silence.
For that reason I propose that this day be elevated in ritual status to be known as the most significant day of the year. There is nothing really significant that can be said in the face of the mystery that is our evolved humanity and in the face of the world that has responded under the influence of our having existed as a species. There are no words that can be uttered to frame where we are. There are no actions, other than simply being, that can respond appropriately to our cosmic situation. So this day should stand out from all others to point to saying nothing.
We can speculate about our species, its future. We can hold philosophical opinions about life. We can even develop theology. But this is all prattle before the awesomeness that is the 13 billion years of our planet’s existence. That awe is not precipitated by our being regarded as the pinnacle of life’s evolution. To posit us as ultimate or even penultimate is arrogance at best, more probably just silly.
‘We are,’ ‘this is’ is all we can say with mouth agape in wonder. This is the day to honor that mystery with dead silence.
From 2008 through 2013, my wife, Jane, and I served as volunteers at Big Bend National Park for three months each winter/spring. Today I came across a notebook in which I had written about a snow storm there in the southwest Texas desert. It follows:
I’m sitting here in the fire-blue Ford F-150 outside the laundry facility at Panther Junction in a snowstorm equal to any large-flaked, damp downfall I’ve seen in Ohio. Where the dry brown ground was warm enough to melt it and soak it up, the snow is not sticking. But in the grasses and beneath the scrub where the previous weeks’ sun seems not to have penetrated, about an inch blankets the desert terrain. The big black male Tarantulas that ranged across sand, rock and roads in search of mates weeks ago are deep in their holes. Rattlesnakes and the coral-colored Brewster County coach-whip snakes are coiled in their dens for weeks yet. As I wait out the laundry cycle, visibility is limited to several hundred yards.
Prickly Pear cacti that yesterday looked like nude sun worshipers, today have donned white scarves wrapped around their lobes by the wind. Creosote bushes have caught handfuls of white fluff and lack only the ability to transform their palmate leaf clusters into hands to be ready for a snowball fight.
The desert, in the space of a few hours, has transformed itself from a sun-baked playground where even in winter shorts and T-shirts were a necessity to a white wonderland that makes you wonder why you left your cross-country skis back home. Once again this fierce landscape has pronounced itself ‘unpredictable.’ It has once more spoken to say, “Your being here is on my terms.”
Far be it from me to question Edward Abbey about the desert, but I wonder about his insistence that “… the desert says nothing. Completely passive, acted upon but never activating. The desert lies there like a bare skeleton of Being …” While the desert may well say nothing, it is not mute. If it is passive, it is a passive aggression, in which its own indomitable self shakes our shoulders insisting upon being taken seriously.
Need I mention that I miss that conversation, sitting here this morning viewing the dreary, rain-soaked sameness of an Ohio Spring.
In his satirical poem ‘Don Juan,’ Lord Byron may have coined the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction,’ but sometimes it is the strangeness of the phony that makes fiction more powerful. Recently the Atlantic noted, “By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.”
The ‘study’ to which Atlantic refers was published in Science [http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1146]. The abstract of that study informs us: “We investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times. We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications. Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”
So, the more far-fetched fiction are the tweeted utterances from POTUS45, the more likely they are to penetrate to the substrata of our commonwealth. That fact/truth does not penetrate so exhaustively is obvious to the casual observer as well as to the scientific enquirer. Why else could the Liar-in-Chief maintain such a hold on so many in the substrata?
Since being a Boy Scout, I’ve been a birdwatcher. We ‘birders’ keep life-lists of our sightings among the hundreds of avian species. In looking at my life-list, one of the first birds I identified was the Killdeer.
Because this plover adapts t habitats it shares with humans, it is probably as numerous as it has ever been. It nests on open ground and is seen in fields, lakeshores, beaches, mudflats, dry stream beds, meadows as well as urban parks and open spaces.
You almost have to try not to notice a Killdeer because they announce themselves with loud ringing cries, after which they get their name “killdeer.’ Their Latin name, above, comes from their noisy behavior. Charadrius vociferus is indeed vociferous.
To keep you from discovering the location of its shallow depression nest, a piteous cry will be accompanied by feigned injury. Dragging one wing as though it might be broken, the clever little fellow will lead you further and further away from what it is trying to keep hidden. When you are sufficiently distracted, the injury will disappear and the bird will take flight.
There is an unusual primate with similar behavior. Chiefexecutivis vociferus tweets loud and frequently hoping to distract watchers from what he wants to keep hidden. The more threatened by discovery, the more irritatingly POTUS 45 issues loud ringing cries. His vociferous behavior is his attempt to decoy observers from what could be discovered if less attention were given to the noise. If you want to find the real crippling characteristic, stop paying attention to the piteous noise.
Follow the money!