“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Matthew 16:26
I wasn’t supposed to be born. After my mother gave birth to my sister, the doctors told her she’d never have another child. They couldn’t say exactly why (later, she was diagnosed with endometriosis) but they were pretty damn certain…the way doctors tend to be pretty damn certain. Wisely, my mother ignored such white coat condescension and less than two years later, yours truly arrived on the scene. Mom called me her “miracle baby” and I think this played a role in the amazingly close relationship we always had.
In the U2 song “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” Bono warbles: “That’s all right, we’re the same soul.” This simple line has given me the poetic license to imagine that my mother defied the medical odds by choosing to “share her soul” (so to speak) with me. This selfless act is what made it possible for me to be born and for us to have been such good friends.
We’re the same soul…
When my mother passed away last year, I found another quote to help me deal with the devastating loss of my soul mate. This one from the Tom Joad character in “Grapes of Wrath.”
Tom sez: “Maybe we’re not all individual souls, but maybe we’re all part of one big soul.”
Again, so incredibly basic but within that simplicity lies the secret: If we were to look upon all living things as part-along with ourselves-of one collective soul, it becomes impossible to live in denial about war, global poverty and disease, oppression, the destruction of our eco-system, etc. It becomes unbearable to visualize animals in a slaughterhouse, a laboratory, a circus, or a zoo. For anyone dwelling anywhere near the realm of reality, it is downright excruciating to contemplate 80% of the world’s forest and 90% of the large fish in the ocean being gone. If we are indeed “all part of one big soul,” as Tom Joad wonders, how can we not weep uncontrollably when-on this planet of abundant resources-a human being starves to death every two seconds?
Yet this is precisely the type of brutal culture we have helped create and, as a result, we are now haunted by billions and billions of lost souls. The souls of the victims of war, of greed, of our callous indifference and denial. Human and animal souls…and souls with roots, too. We are haunted by the souls of 100 animal and plant species going extinct each and every day. Souls like those of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow.
Once found mainly on Florida’s Merritt Island, the dusky seaside sparrow had its salt marsh habitat sprayed with DDT and cleared so it could be taken over by the space program. The last Dusky died in 1987.
We could all live more easily in a world without NASA but instead we’re stuck on a planet devoid of dusky seaside sparrows (and soon devoid of polar bears, California condors, Woodland caribou, whooping cranes, wolverines, etc.).
Our irrational behavior has corrupted Tom Joad’s hypothetical “one big soul” but perhaps-as I like to visualize my Mom doing-we can offer new life to the myriad lost souls by sharing and giving more of ourselves. We can do this by waking up, by remembering, by speaking out, by no longer playing the role of silent partnership as everything is consumed or poisoned or destroyed.
Do it for yourself. Do it for the planet. Do it for the future. Do it for the tortured souls, the victims of human progress (sic).
To give a voice and a new life to all those lost souls is to see ourselves, as Subcommandante Marcos once suggested:
“Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a gang member in Neza, a rocker in the National University, a Jew in Germany, an ombudsman in the Defense Ministry, a communist in the post-Cold War era, an artist without gallery or portfolio. A pacifist in Bosnia, a housewife alone on Saturday night in any neighborhood in any city in Mexico, a striker in the CTM, a reporter writing filler stories for the back pages, a single woman on the subway at 10 pm, a peasant without land, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student, a dissident amid free market economics, a writer without books or readers, and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains of southeast Mexico. So Marcos is a human being, any human being, in this world. Marcos is all the exploited, marginalized, and oppressed minorities, resisting and saying, ‘Enough’!”
He could’ve added: “Marcos is a dusky seaside sparrow in Florida.”
Or perhaps Eugene V. Debs said it best: “While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
I’ll see you on the front lines, comrades. Don’t forget to bring your soul…