This year, I am assigned to teach World History to 120 shiny, freshman fourteen year-olds. Imagine my dismay when I polled my classes and most all of them had not seen any Star Wars? I’m still reeling five years ago when I conducted a similar poll and students had no idea who George Harrison was. What was once like breathing air has evaporated and time has shifted to another generation who steps in to take its place. If I wait another fifteen years, another round of freshman will sit before me, and I suspect they will not know Harry Potter. How strange to possess two realities–the inside me feels seventeen, but the outside me looks like my mother. Back to Yoda.
Laozi, a Chinese scholar and philosopher, is credited for developing Daoism, around the 6th century according to legend. It is an ethical system embracing the natural order verses the social order. It is nature, not man, that holds the truth of the universe. To live in harmony with nature, rejecting governmental intervention, to seek the Dao,”the Way”, that universal force which surrounds us. Release yourself and allow the Dao to guide you–those are the tenets of Daoism.
I see the same concepts in Transcendentalism advocated by 19th century scholars, Emerson and Thoreau. Henry David, seeing the truths of nature in the smallest creatures like the ants when he spent nearly two years in the woods at Walden Pond. Or Walt Whitman, metaphorically connecting his soul with a spider from Leaves of Grass:
“A Noiseless Patient Spider”
A noiseless patient spider,
And you O my soul where you stand,
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
Remember the 1996 John Travolta film, Phenomenon? I enjoyed the premise and questions George raised in the film. After seeing lights in the sky, he is hit as if by lightning and wakes to discover his brain’s activity surpasses the rest of humanity. I love his explanation of energy and matter connecting all organisms. Einstein thought the same thing. Another film playing out the secrets of matter and energy as the glue that binds us all was Powder (1995) starring Jeff Goldblum and Sean Patrick Flanery as Jeremy, the poor teenager whose skin color and abilities to harness energy gave him unusual gifts and few friends. I can look past the holes of the film and appreciate the questions raised. I still love the last scene when he runs in the field and the bolts are drawn to him like a magnet. It seems like Daoism is at work here, too.