Albert Einstein was a wise and learned man.
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A long time ago, when I was your budding university age, I read something he said about the transience of life and the wondrous qualities of nature that has always remained with me.
I want to share his wisdom with you in writing, in the confidence that it will register despite the frantic exuberance of youth, and that it will, as well, be anchored in both your memories as you cross the bridge from childhood into womanhood.
This is what Einstein said as he approached death.
“Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited, for a short stay, without knowing why. To me, it is enough to wonder at the secrets.”
It is, I suppose, more than a touch audacious for your humble father to deign to decipher the meaning of what an immortal genius had to say about such essential things.
Still, I will try. I have been thinking a lot lately about that simple, elegant passage given the dire, compelling circumstances you and the world confront today.
Einstein was right. Our presence on this lonely, spinning orb is brief and the unexpected by-product of a strange, extraordinary bout of luck.
Like Einstein, who devoted himself to wondering “at the secrets”, our purpose – big or small, useful or not – emerges and can evolve over time.
Meanwhile, nature’s power, with all its profundity and inherent mysteries – discovered and undiscovered – endures, often beyond human comprehension or control.
As Einstein acknowledged, we are here, as visitors, for a short stay. The implication, while unspoken, is, I believe, apparent. Each of us is required to act responsibly, careful to mind this big, hospitable place we call home for what amounts to a snippet of time. Inevitably, we disappear back into oblivion, leaving others to judge and measure how well we did along the reliably turbulent way.
That is the challenge and obligation of each generation that follows another like one wave follows another.
My generation has failed – miserably.
We have behaved irresponsibly – not by chance, but with wanton neglect and a cavalier disregard for the grievous harm and irreparable damage we have caused to a planet and a younger generation who deserve a better, more hopeful fate.
We have chosen greed over generosity. We have wallowed in consumption over temperance. We have preferred indulgence over sacrifice. We consider ignorance a virtue rather than admit our stupidity. We have taken comfort in myopia rather than peer beyond the troubling horizon.
We have capped our ears in the place of listening. We have enjoyed silly, shiny distractions over adopting the serious prescriptions necessary to avoid slipping into the abyss. We have dismissed repeated warnings instead of heeding them.
We continue to deny the undeniable. We have entertained fools who resemble ostriches because we are ostriches too. We have hesitated when the moment demanded immediacy. We value the now at the expense of tomorrow.
The blatant consequences of our avarice and selfishness are becoming more obvious day after glaring day. They are accelerating well beyond, as some scientists have assured us, the point of no return. The once-feared Rubicon is fast receding into the rear view, replaced by a new, stubborn reality: the earth is convulsing.
The jarring images are inescapable. Fires are raging. Ice caps are receding. Oceans are rising and falling. Drought is spreading. Floods are drowning people and places. Cities and plains are turning into furnaces. Species are being extinguished. Ancient traditions and practices are evaporating.
Want and fear are rampant. Innocents in countries that have least plundered the planet are suffering the most and dying. Meantime, countless refugees searching for safe haven are being abandoned by the wealthy few.
This is what my old, spent generation has wrought during our short stay on this blue-and-white sphere we have pillaged to satisfy our insatiable need to devour and horde ephemeral delights that we confuse with meaning and happiness.
It is our fault that by mid-century human life on earth may become intolerable. It is a shameful legacy that we have bequeathed to you. You should not forgive us since we have carried on unforgivably. We have feigned concern about your future as we have gone about – like drunken hedonists – squandering it in the pursuit of our pleasures and prosperity.
So, you are right to point a blunt and damning finger at us not only for what we have done, but, perhaps more importantly, for what we have failed to do to avert disaster. We have earned your wrath and accusations.
We are guilty.
Yet, in our hubris, we are certain that there is room to mend our wayward ways. There is time still in the hourglass.
In our abiding arrogance, we cling to a futile faith that, with enterprise and intelligence, we can tame nature and reverse the irreversible. We trust that innovation will be our salvation.
This is as foolish as it is fanciful.
We abandoned intelligence and enterprise ages ago. Delay and dithering are my generation’s calling cards.
We have forfeited the privilege of offering you assurances or solutions to an unfolding cataclysm of our making, not yours. But it will be up to you to find– if possible – an exit ramp from the perilous road we are all on.
Hope, in this discouraging hour, only exists because you exist. I know you will do your part to repair what urgently needs repairing.
And remember, all the while, to wonder at the secrets.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.