This poem by Wendell Berry showed up as a meme online and got me thinking…
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come in to the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Beautiful poem, but the line that struck me was about how wild things do not “tax their lives with forethought.” Only humans do that.
Then I remembered the myth of Prometheus, and that his name means “forethought.” In the myth, of course, the Titan Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to humans. As punishment, Prometheus is chained forever to a rock and each day an eagle comes and eats out his liver.
But the fact that his name means Forethought made me wonder. What if the “fire” that Prometheus really stole from the gods and gave to us is exactly what his name says? Forethought—the capacity to think ahead and imagine what may be next. That’s what sets us apart from the wild creatures and makes us like the gods. And it’s what causes us to wake up in fear of ‘what our lives and our children’s lives may be.’ Or, you might say, causes that eagle to keep coming back and eating out our livers (or our hearts).
These days many of us are living in fear of the future: political insanity, climate change, disasters around every corner. Many are eating their hearts out.
That’s forethought, I’m afraid. Part of what makes us human.
And maybe, like Berry’s narrator, seek out the presence of the still waters. And remember that, though you can’t see them at the moment, the stars are waiting with their light.