A couple of hours ago the cold, silent radiators in my apartment began to clank and hiss back to life, so to speak. And the water from the hot water taps is really hot. Somewhere, some hard-working power company crew managed to fix the thingabobs and gizmos knocked out by Hurricane Sandy, and all the power is back on in my building. Life is good.
At the very least, a disaster like Sandy brings to our attention all the interconnections and dependencies we humans have created for ourselves. We trust that lights will turn on and that the bridges we drive on won't collapse. We have faith that we can drive to the neighborhood supermarket whenever we like and find shelves full of bread and bins of grapefruit and broccoli and whatever else we like to eat. When those things we take for granted suddenly aren't available, it's disconcerting, to say the least.
We humans are social creatures. Our earliest ancestors survived by forming family and tribal alliances, and since then we have never ceased to invent new ways to become interconnected. We built cities and trade routes. We invented trains and automobiles and airplanes to reach each other across distances. And with this newfangled Internet thing, distances don't even matter.
Today we live in an elaborate network of interdependency, made up of international commerce and government, plus wires, pipes and technology. Most of the time, we don't know anything about the people who sew our clothes or grow our potatoes. We trust that somebody is inspecting bridges and monitoring air traffic. I'll probably never meet anyone on the power company crew that got my heat turned on, although I wish I could thank them. It is cold today, and I was turning into a Popsicle.
But how typical is it that these many interconnections are woven into our daily lives, yet most of us don't consciously realize they are there?
There is a Zen gatha chanted before meals that begins by recalling all the work that prepared the food. This work includes that of the cooks, the grocers, the truck drives, the farmers. And then there are the people who maintain the trucks, who build the grocery stores, who sell supplies to the farmers. If you keep making connections, pretty soon you've connected hundreds of thousands of people. And if you extend the connection to all the people who sustain the lives of those people, and so on, pretty soon you've connected everyone on the planet, and their ancestor and descendents.
We really are all in this life thing together.