THROUGH THE PANE: The big question

Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I am fascinated when I think how seldom I – and others I suppose – think about how we are sailing through the heavens on a space ship bound we know not where.

Weldon Payne

By Weldon Payne

I see trees, houses, automobiles and trucks moving, squirrels playing, birds flittering near the feeders, flowers brightening yards despite extreme heat. We go about business. Totally without our attention or care, the round ball on which we all were born and where we have spent our days, moves, unaffected, on its steady predictable course.

What I’m trying to get at is our separation from this ship, our dependence certainly but also our independence.  I know exactly what has prompted this.  I just re-read Stephen crane’s book “The Red Badge of Courage.”  I remembered that Crane had focused on a young man running away in the midst of a Civil War battle and later regaining courage and devotion to duty.  But what snagged my attention were a couple of sentences early on.

In the midst of the thunder and smoke of battle surrounding and almost overwhelming the young kid, Crane writes: “As he gazed around him the youth felt a flash of astonishment at the blue, pure sky and the sun gleaming on the trees and fields. It was surprising that Nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process in the midst of so much devilment.”

That bit grabbed me.

The earth  — our space ship – moved on, untouched by canon’s roar  or bloody carnage – at peace pursuing its exact prescribed course  while men killed each other – mothers and children lost husbands and fathers for eternity. Yet the “blue pure sky” and “gleaming sun” held steady as our space ship sailed serenely on its eternal course.

And that story – that behavior of our mysterious space ship – is repeated daily regardless of how we passengers behave. In my lifetime we have looked down on and mistreated, ridiculed, made fun of, even killed  people with black skins, Jews, Italians, poor people without affecting the speeding ship on which we ride, bound we know not where, in any way in its steady spinning course.

It altered not one iota its steady flight and scheduled spin when Americans fought each other in one of the bloodiest battles ever.  It spun on timely course when slaves were brought to this land and sold at market. It stayed on course when our nation and the world prevailed against a crazed little man with moustache who sought to breed a super race and rule the world.  How little thought many of us gave to the real possibility then of being slaves forever after. But our space ship stayed on course.

Another sentence or two from Mr. Crane’s little book has stayed with me as I read about this wayward soldier confronting a dead comrade and “looking keenly at the ashen face” as wind moved the man’s tawny beard “as though “a hand were stroking it.”

Crane writes that the young soldier “vaguely desired to walk around and around  the body and stare; the impulse of the living to try to read in dead eyes the answer to the Question.”  Ah, yes, the question that haunts us still as fellow humans  daily kill each other while our mysterious and lonely space ship speeds on its secret mission surrounded by lovely blue and white clouds, floating in sunshine, washed in glistening refreshing rain while we kill each other. Don’t you ever think about that?  I do.

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