The Foundations of Civilization

(my version)

I got the idea for making this list from Sara, who made one of her own and invited others to do the same. A friend of hers challenged her to make a list of the 42 things without which civilization as she knew it would collapse. (42 is the answer to the fundamental question about life, the universe, and everything, if only we knew what the question was, from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams). There was a link to her version near the bottom of this page, but alas, hers has since disappeared. It was a good list.
If you do one too, I'd like to know about it.
My list is not in order of importance. Or indeed, in any order at all.
Everything on this list is subject to change without notice.

    1. Sunrises - in fact, there is only one, which has been sweeping around the world since Earthmother and Sunfather began their dance.
    2. Sunsets - likewise.
    3. Giant sequoias, who help us to remember how little and ephemeral we are. All other trees too, on general principles.
    4. Doll houses, which help us to remember how big and ephemeral we are and allow us another world in which to compensate for some of the things in this one.
    5. Cats, especially Abyssinians, who can see us clearly - and often let us know what they think of what they see.
    6. Elves, gnomes, and fairies - essential friends in a world overdosing on too much and too mundane Alleged Reality.
    7. Dogs, for practicing unconditional love.
    8. Rain - the source of life. I know there is a scientific explanation for it, but really, how does all that water stay up there? And once up, why does it all come down in the West of Scotland?
    9. Terra. Without her, where would we be?
    10. Luna. For lighting the dark, but not all the time, which is as it should be.
    11. Sol. Wow!
    12. Roses, the dark red ones that really smell like roses. Also freesias and narcissus. The wild mothan. Ok, all flowers. Ok, ok, all things that grow roots in the earth and photosynthesize, thus making it possible for all mobile creatures to breathe and eat (although that may well not be their primary intention in life).
    13. Mythology. All of it everywhere, but especially people's personal myths and fantasies, with which we create the future, define the present, and recreate the past.
    14. Magic. The real thing - not the fake or the ritual.
    15. Earthquakes, for reminding us that everything changes. And for stirring things up and making mountains, which are essential to civilization.
    16. Mountains, for being so extraordinarily beautiful, for reminding us of our aspirations, for challenging us, and for giving us a place to stand - when we've made the climb.
    17. Angels, for helping us to learn to take things lightly so that we too may fly. And all birds, for reminding us of angels and for being themselves.
    18. Flying Pigs. Well, why not? And all other miraculous beings and happenings.
    19. Humor, which makes it all bearable.
    20. Love, which makes it all worthwhile.
    21. Teddy bears and other cloth persons, for comfort, especially when the cat is disinclined.
    22. Hard times - we may not like them, we may try to avoid them whenever possible, but we can't deny that they make us grow and that they form an essential part of the process.
    23. Gods. Who else is there to blame?
    24. The Order of the Ascending Spirit - to which we all belong, one way or another, sooner or later.
    25. Art, which belongs to the people who do it, not to critics and academics, who, generally, are full of absurdity and hot air.
    26. Religion, but not organized or fossilized. Only when it's personal.
    27. Eccentricity. Many blessings upon all of the people who don't try to live down to the lowest common denominator.
    28. People who try to help people to help themselves.
    29. Spiritual healing, which is people helping people to help themselves, magically.
    30. Death, for motivating us to get on with it and for providing eventual release from having to.
    31. Coyotes, for symbols of intelligent maverick freedom, and for singing to each other in the night.
    32. Clothes. They keep us warm when it's cold, and provide another means for expressing our personality, if we have one.
    33. Grandmothers, for all they teach us, give us, and are. Grandfathers, too, for the same reasons.
    34. Long hair on men, for upsetting the status quo, which is about such absurd and unimportant things. Kilts on men, for defending tradition, which is about such . . .
    35. People I like, for obvious reasons.
    36. People I don't like, for what they teach me about myself, my limitations, my littleness, and for helping me grow.
    37. People I don't know, just for being.
    38. People with home pages that tell you who they are - for putting themselves on the line.
    39. Horses, for providing such a romantic image in spite of being one of the most witless creatures able to manage four legs.
    40. Elephants. If you don't already understand this, I'll never be able to explain it to you.
    41. The stars, for being even bigger and farther away than mountains, and for providing a frame of reference in spacetime.
    42. Everyone and everything else.

Copyright © 1996 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This first appeared in Otherworld Arts, March 1996.
Your comments will be read with interest.

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