P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins and a founding editor of Parabola, once wrote that mythic heroes (and she stressed that potential heroes are everywhere) were not so much setting out on voyages of discovery but of rediscovery; “that the hero is seeking not for something new but for something old, a treasure that was lost and has to be found, his own self, his identity.” In Joe Berlinger’s powerful documentary Crude, Pablo Fajardo, an attorney who was once a desperately poor manual laborer, stands up for 30,000 Ecuadorian rainforest settlers and indigenous people. They call themselves los afectados, “the affected ones,” and allege that they live in a “death zone” of pollution that is roughly the size of Rhode Island that was created when Texaco (which was acquired by Chevron in 2001) began drilling for oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon in the late 60s and 70s. At some point in the midst of a hard, dangerous early life, Fajardo happened to attend a youth group run by a Spanish priest that instilled in him a sense of the underlying dignity of all human life–including poor and indigenous lives. Although Crude does an admirable job of offering a balanced point of view, early viewers of Crude have compared Farjardo to David going up against Goliath. He has David’s faith that he is on the side of truth. No matter how much money Chevron has to spend, he says at one point. You can’t put a price on clean water or food or the inherent value of human life and a healthy planet.
In 2005, Joe Berlinger set out on his own journey of rediscovery as a filmmaker. Berlinger visited the Ecuador and was shown an ecological disaster. He saw and smelled the petrochemical sludge that for decades has been dumped into huge open pits or directly into the water and soil–a system designed by Texaco. Berlinger, whose previous film, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, had a four million dollar budget, went into the Ecuadorian jungle with a skeleton crew and shot footage, not sure how he was going to finance it, not knowing how the story line or the film itself was going to turn out.
“I felt like the universe was tapping me on the shoulder,” Berlinger told me by phone. “In many ways the legal case I was filming is an excuse to explore the plight of indigenous people who got no benefits from industrializtion, only heartache.”
When was the last time you felt that the universe was tapping you on the shoulder? Can you recally feeling as if you were stepping onto a new path, heading into the unknown just because it felt like the right thing to do?
2 thoughts on “Stepping Onto a New Path”
Tracy’s post about indigenous people and how we are harming our planet as well as the questions she asks at the end touched me, as they are my questions as well.
The last chapter of my book “Ar’txu’lan, not yet published, is titled Man’s Fate. The question of Man’s ever increasing descent and whether it is possible to do anything to alter the course of humanity has been the most difficult chapter to write. I have come to the conclusion that no amount of ‘activism’, although certainly needed for the benefit that it does bring, will prevent the fall of humanity into denser and darker life. But what, if anything, can help? I’ve seen that if I personally am to be of any real help then first of all I need to receive/embody something from the world above us. This is not meant to be religious or mystical. It is a fact. If my attention goes no further than the prevalent human attention then no ascent is possible, for me; therefore I am contributing to the current state of humanity. If, though, in a moment, perhaps of reaction/irritation toward someone or something, I see that this is what I am contributing to the world then a small change has come about in me. This change is not of my doing. My effort was only to see, or be graced by seeing, the miracle of something better, something finer coming down into the world through me is done for me. This attention is from a higher world.
Doing, with all its’ implications is not yet something of which I am capable…very often.
While writing this chapter the question which kept returning was, “Do I really care what happens to humanity?” Perhaps, but not enough. What has been done before by Great Humans such as Milarepa, Gurdjieff, Buddha, Jesus and others?
I think that fabulous question follows into another one: if the universe does tap you on the shoulder, showing you the entrance if not the path to some unknown heroism, will you have the courage to go? It is one thing to be free of ignorance of such catastrophes like that of the Ecuadorian Indians and another to get down there and truly make the effort to push for change. That is why I deeply respect Mr. Berlinger for abandoning the more plush projects that must have come with the success of “Some Kind of Monster” to work with such a meaningful, if somewhat hopeless, case.