As a Pennsylvania boy, I was proud that my home state could boast of some of the biggest forests the earth had ever known. It didn't matter that they had disappeared; the fact that they were once there was pretty wonderful to me. Of course, they flourished millions of years ago, in some Carboniferous Age, but it was a thrill to realize that the carbon dioxide which those trees had absorbed so long ago had, under the pressure of soil and rock and time, gradually been metamorphosed into coal.
It seemed obvious to me even then that nothing really dies. Things changed form, but the energy that made them live simply went somewhere else. For all I knew, the force that had once caused the sap to flow through those trees might still be around, perhaps making our present forests green while underground their ancestral trunks, now transformed, had become a means of livelihood for thousands. Miners for generations had been digging out the coal, oil drillers pumping crude petroleum from shale beds, geologists had painstakingly gathered plant and animal fossils, while along the rivers and valleys we boys searched for tomahawks and arrowheads left by our Indian predecessors.
Mineral, plant, animal, and man — four kingdoms of nature, all closely interrelated, yet each evolving within its own life-cycle of birth, growth, and death. Here the conifers and ferns had taken their substance from soil and air, and now after tremendous periods of time were returning it as coal, graphite, gas, and oil — to warm our houses, provide our pencil lead, cook our food, and fuel the furnaces of industry. Stored carbon — in its elemental form one of the softest of minerals and opaque. Yet with just a little difference of internal structure wrought by the accumulated pressure of the ages, it yields pure carbon still, but now in crystal form, the hardest of minerals, the most beautiful and transparent, a many-faceted diamond.
One in essence, different in body — so the world, after all, from mineral to star is of the same basic stuff. It is simply a question of what is done with "matter," how its particles are arranged or combined, to make at one stage a weed, at another a stone or a man, or again a sun. The durability and versatility of the life-force — I have never lost that youthful flash of conviction. There is a brotherhood that embraces the whole of cosmos, not only human beings but everything from electron to nebula. And all the peoples of the globe are kin literally, and neither their color of skin nor the languages they use can make or unmake that fact. We are one: chemically, fashioned of star-stuff cosmically diffused; spiritually, sparked with the flame of a divine element that ignites every point in space into an evolving unit.
If there is indeed "a divinity that shapes our ends," how account then for the sickness of the times? In nearly every direction, there is upheaval, discouragement, a tragic lassitude of spirit. Why should this be so, when never before have we had such magnificent opportunities for development? Are we really heading toward disaster? Or is there some aspect we have neglected because of our absorption in the dark side of human affairs?
"Where the night is blackest, there the stars shine brightest." The old Spanish proverb was rarely more apt. Perhaps we have grown a little too tall too soon. Exploration of outer space has suddenly brought down on us a whole new set of problems which we find ourselves ill-equipped to handle all at once. We are being forced to assume the responsibility of a higher adulthood, and we have not as yet fully recognized, let alone accepted, the challenge. But we are learning fast and well. The very upheaval so universally felt is the mark of a strong inward stirring, the struggle of the soul of mankind in the process of shedding an outgrown chrysalis.
Of course we have problems, and serious ones, but I have as little use for the hawkings of the perennial gloom-peddlers as I have for the peace-of-mind addicts who sugar-coat every difficulty. Let us have a realism of the spirit that is not afraid to face life as it is. If we would keep pace with the scientists as they send out their probes, we should be probing the reaches of the inner space within the heart of man that is his link with the divine inspiration that brought the cosmos into being.
We may appear to be little more than developed animals, but given some understanding patience and a little time, we shall find our wings and know that no power in the universe is mightier than the divine essence embedded within us. Mentally and spiritually we are indeed giants in embryo, coequal in potential with the great Intelligence that inspirits the galaxies and suns. That is the realism which will prove far more dynamic than the so-called realism of the negative-minded.
So let us have done with overanxiety and doubt. No one ever succeeded by feeling sorry for himself or by constantly downgrading his inherent capacity to achieve. Certainly we cannot pray away evil any more than we can deny that disease and sorrow and death are part of human experience. But health and joy and growth are also part of living. Viewed from the outer roll of events, the lives of many may seem to be a failure; but, seen through the eyes of our highest self, there can be no failure. No matter how many battles we lose, the immortal Warrior within is invincible and will lead us again and again to the field of human endeavor until full victory is ours.
If Divine Intelligence does pervade every particle of Infinity, then every single human being has at his command all the power and creative initiative to work with it and its constructive elements in nature. We may have plenty of coal and crude oil in our make-up; but we also have the potential of a diamond. That is why the Buddhists, particularly in Tibet, spoke of the Lord Buddha as the "diamond-heart," he whose whole being had through the pressure of the ages and the intensity of experience been metamorphosed into the purity and strength of the diamond. From the most opaque in quality, Gautama became through the crucible of trial the most translucent: as perfect a reflection of the Light from within as of the sorrow of man from without. An exemplar of compassion in very truth, because so adamantine in will and purpose, yet so responsive to the heart-cry of the world, that he refused the bliss of Omniscience that he might return to earth to share the radiance of his triumph with all mankind.
Coal or diamond — we too are compound of both.