The following is a short reaction to one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time:
“Ishmael” begins with a look at an unsatisfied, bitter man who has seen the great revolution of the ‘60s succumb to mainstream society and fail; knowing the importance of the movement, he was pained by its lack of wisdom and inability to do anything for the world. So, when he sees the ad in the paper asking for a student who wants to save the world, he is beyond indignant. There can be no such way!
The bulk of the story takes place as a dialogue between the narrator and his new teacher, the gorilla called Ishmael. The lesson is that man is living outside the law of nature, defying his place in the natural order by taking dominion when he is supposed to coexist.
The book explores the origins of human arrogance and need to control as well as the divine right of man to take over nature. At the end, the narrator comes to the conclusion that man is made for the world not that the world was made for man.
“Ishmael” is especially relevant in modern times because humanity has progressed so far into the destruction of the world. It puts a heavy burden on the reader, too, with the overall message; by proving the point through rational conversation instead of just ranting, the reader is unable to discount the message and move on. It was one of the best features of the story.
The call toward the end of the story to spread the world about humanity and its true purpose is intimidating, but people are beginning to come around… not by Ishmael’s standards, of course, but they are starting in the environmental revolution. While humans still think they are the masters of the universe, we are at least trying to have less effect while maintaining our superiority. I don’t think that will work in the future (at all), but progress counts as well.
Lather, wipe, scrub, rinse, repeat. The dishes in my hands move rapidly, automatically, in my hands. Dirty pile, water, clean pile. I scrub at dried spaghetti sauce and days-old mustard, but my mind is elsewhere – in the clouds as it is said. Plates, lids, bowls, and pans pass me by as I fall further into my mind.
I have tried. God knows I have. I have tried settling, abandoning my gypsy past without looking back for creature comforts and safety. I have an apartment and a roommate; we split costs and cleaning down to the carefully constructed system of dish washing in which I scrub pans and he the pots. I have friends and frequent a multitude of shows with them, often staying out until the police send us scattering. I am a member of the community and the local book club; I hold a job and smile at the neighbors as they walk by. I am a model citizen: no traffic tickets, no misdemeanors, no public intoxication whatsoever.
The winds of change are upon me.
The energies have come to me once more. They cannot be refused; the overzealous urge to move and expend thought through motion is impossible to escape. To hunker down and fight it is miserable – like clinging to a rock in the midst of an overflowing river. The energies beg only to be followed. They say, “Let go of the rock; the rock is a foolish thing that will slip away in time. Give in and obey the river.”
Where this river will take me I cannot fathom. That seems to be the allure of such thinking, the total abandon and lack of foresight. The energies carry you at their whims, moving you in a way that mimics true destiny because self guidance is impossible. It remains to be seen in which direction I will travel, but I can feel already that this episode is stronger than others. I will be going and going soon.
I pat my hands with a stained green dishtowel and swipe my fingers briskly through hair that has not been washed for too long. My fingers snag in the tangles, but there is no problem here. Dirty hair. Does it matter? I think not.