There is an ancient story from Jewish mysticism that tells of “36 humble righteous ones” known as the Lamedvavnik (Yiddish: לאַמעדוואָווניק). The story says that at any given moment on Earth there are, at a minimum, 36 holy souls who are (without being conscious of it), holding up the world and preventing it from total destruction. For the sake of these 36 hidden saints, God preserves the world even if the rest of humanity has degenerated to the level of total barbarism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzadikim_Nistarim
In more recent times, many authors have woven this folklore into their own modern stories of humans wrestling with forces of darkness. There are those who have written of the numerological aspects of the number 36, fascinating in its own granular way. But I prefer to infer a larger meaning of the idea of a relative handful of souls who incarnate on Earth with the express purpose of keeping it aloft and intact. We all know of people in our lives and communities who seem to have a little extra goodness, patience, and compassion than most. They are the ones who offer a smile, a hand, a joke, or perhaps even a hug when life feels unbearable. Humanity has always experienced difficult days, periods of duress and suffering. Fortunately, the Lamedvavnik have always been there to help us push on through.
I just spent the past month reading The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It falls in the genre of Cli-Fi, and “hard science fiction” because Robinson did extensive research into both the very real and dire circumstances humanity is in related to climate disaster, as well as the many solutions being developed by scientists of all stripes across the globe. The result is a sweeping work of the imagination that offers a frighteningly possible world in the coming few decades.
This book took me a while to plow through because it is 563 pages and I’m not a fast reader. It is not a perfect book. After a shocking start and couple hundred pages of fascinating story, somewhere midway through comes a high point (not exactly a climax), after which the story tips dangerously into utopian fiction. I found I had trouble withholding disbelief from that point on, given the enormous scope of this work. However, it is definitely worth the time to read this expansive story of climate catastrophe and the What-If scenarios that Robinson eloquently devises in response.
There are a few main characters in this novel. One is Frank May, whose story of inconceivable trauma is the lynchpin upon which the rest of the story revolves. As he strives to deal with his PTSD life, his thoughts wander.
He pondered what he might do. One person had one-eight-billionth of the power that humanity had. One eight-billionth wasn’t a very big fraction, but then again there were poisons that worked in the parts-per-billion range, so it wasn’t entirely unprecedented for such a small agent to change things. (Robinson, pg. 65)
Frank is caught between his inherent desire to help, to be of service to humanity, and the intensity of the world’s horror. Robinson writes,
He could feel it burning him up: he wanted to kill. Well, he wanted to punish. People had caused the heat wave, and not all people…there were particular people, many still alive, who had worked all their lives to deny climate change, to keep burning carbon, to keep wrecking biomes, to keep driving other species extinct. That evil work had been their lives’ project, and while pursuing that project they had prospered and lived in luxury. They wrecked the world happily, thinking they were supermen, laughing at the weak, crushing them underfoot. (Robinson, pgs. 65-66)
The Ministry for the Future is a sweeping, long look at how climate catastrophe might unfold, while also the personal story of a small group of humans who, like the Lamedvavnik, work to alleviate the worst consequences, to turn the massive ship that is Climate Catastrophe from completely wrecking the planet, the animals, and the people of Earth. It is a story that is at once terrifying, fascinating, and idealistically possible, although admittedly a long shot. But clearly that is what Robinson was going for; offering a possible future for all of us where our planet does come back from the brink, where the majority of humans do wake up in time, and we are able to create a healthier future world for all life. Idealistic? Absolutely. And yet, reading this novel helped me to better imagine how it could all unfold in the coming decades. How we might still survive these extraordinarily painful times. How it cannot possibly be all sunshine and unicorns one fine day. I am not one to go in for dystopian future worldviews, because those scenarios paint such a bleak picture of Earth’s future that there is no hope in them. The future of Earth and of humanity are utterly intertwined. There are many Lamedvavnik, or world-savers, now alive on the planet. More are coming every day. It is an All-Hands-On-Deck moment for humanity. Will we wake up in time? Will we collectively do what must be done in order to move forward into the Light? To realize that the reality is we are all One Body, billions of grains of sand in the ocean of the Godhead, fractalized into uncountable bits?
Dear Readers, I wish you a blessed Winter Solstice and Holy Days of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the Peace of the Void. Embrace the Light, Shine the Light, Be the Light.
Robinson, K. S. (2020). The Ministry for the Future. New York, NY. Orbit. Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Wikipedia (2021). Tzadikim Nistarim.