‘Monument, Shmonument’ in the Tower of Babel; Eclipse Offers a Way Out

On Monday August 21, the Moon will blot out the Sun in a mindboggling illusion. Though our Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun and only one of many moons in our solar system, it is 400 times closer to Earth and can block the Sun from our view for a few moments in time. (It’s like when you use your thumb to block your view of something that is both much larger and much farther away, says NASA)

I see the celestial event as a stunning metaphor for our condition: At a time when humanity seems to think we have the reins - though we’re galloping heedlessly toward extinction - the eclipse gives us the opportunity to observe the play of heavenly orbs in awe and be reminded of the majesty and dynamism and INDEPENDENCE of the universe we live in.

It’s time for a re-set, and the wondrous celestial event of the Sun, Moon and Earth slipping into perfect harmony before our gaping eyes should remind us that big surreal events such as this are going on in the universe around us all the time. I interpret the fact that it appears now to command our attention at a time when we are as frazzled as in the Biblical Tower of Babel as a giant wake up call. It definitely gives us a unique and concerted moment to pause together and take stock of where we are, and decide how to proceed. Because we cannot logically continue the way we’re going.

It’s said that you can specialize so exclusively that in time you come to know more and more about less and less. We’re arguably in that place now. Conversation in the public sphere is dominated by the views and actions of fewer and fewer people – one in particular. The same words convey entirely different meaning to different groups. Like the Tower of Babel, everyone’s talking but no one seems to understand.

When we’re facing the perils caused by climate change and our president dismisses it as a hoax; when the values of unity that we have striven to strengthen since the Civil War are spurned by our leader who defends the “good people” amongst murderous Neo-Nazis on our streets; when our President can call out everyone on Earth with impunity except intrusive Russian leaders and those who promote separatism in America; when a majority in the cadre of Americans who support the president say they can think of no instance in which they would find his conduct reproachable – the definition of a cult – then we must wake up to the fact that our democracy is in dire distress.

Add to the confusion the fact that words that have been used for 100 years to refer to completely opposite things are now roiling the public discourse in incomprehensible ways.

Take the word monument:

Millions of Americans – me included - have been trying to protect “monuments” from President Trump. In this context, a “monument” is a place principally in the national park or forest system, some a million acres and more, containing unique natural, cultural or historic value. Videos featuring members of the Next100 Coalition supporting monuments are shared on the Natural Resources Defense Council website. (We await Secretary Zinke’s August 24 release of results of his review when he comes back from his vacation to Greece.)

This is confusing for some of our friends in the context of the current hysteria about “monuments” being torn down. Why do we want to protect some statues but tear down others? they ask. I strive to explain the difference between a “monument” that is a unit of the National Park System and a “monument” that is a statue honoring leaders of the confederacy that precipitated and lost the Civil War. Mindful of the hurtful effect they have on Americans who may have remained enslaved today if the confederacy had its way, I am open to the suggestion that we might install them in museums and tell their story.

To me, the chasm between the worlds represented by the same word “monument” is as great as the light of the Sun compared to the faintness of our Moon, which has no light of its own and only reflects the vast light of our Sun. The fact that our moon can and will obscure our Sun for a moment on my 66th birthday next Monday highlights the illusions under which we live, (as if WE are the center of the universe) the dynamism of the universe three celestial bodies line up in perfect harmony before our eyes) and the fleeting parameters of human life (on the scale of infinity my 66 years is a blip that will count only to the extent that I create a legacy of love.)

On Monday I’m hoping the sky is clear enough so that I’m able to see the Moon begin to slide across the Sun. Throughout the eclipse I plan to surrender to the power of the universe, appreciating its vastness, power and benevolence. I plan to use my free will and choice to ask for a shift in focus for our country, a realization of our commonalities as beneficiaries pursuing our legacy towards “liberty, equality and justice for all.” I hope you will join me in using the moment to call for a positive change in our world.

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