Dear Earth, put us on probation. You are doing this already with the pandemics that you send us. Try and test us, put us through the suffering we deserve. Too often we have been saved by the benevolence of the universe; and because salvation like that has come easily to us, we do not learn.
We only learn through suffering. We have become too spoilt, too stupid, too self-regarding. We fancy ourselves as gods. We are nothing but wonder woven in mortal flesh and we give ourselves notions of semi-divine grandeur, we who are the children of death and immortality.
I think it is time for our flesh and our dreams to be tried. It is time for us to undergo the greatest initiation that we have undergone together as a species, an initiation of fire that brings us to the threshold of true humility and illumination. We will not transform ourselves and be worthy anymore of this fabled kingdom of the earth if we aren’t raised in some way. And the only way to raise us is to temper us with fire and with iron.
I do not wish any suffering on any human being or any being. But we the human race have failed in that solemn responsibility which was suggested to us in all the ancient wisdom books, the responsibility to fructify and enrich the earth, to add to her beauty, and evolve on her towards the fullest possibilities of being human.
We are not rising up to the greatness hinted at in the wonder woven in us.
Because we think we are all flesh our dreams have become all profit and dust. And we think that there is no force anywhere capable of chastising us for our cruelties to the earth and to one another, our wars, our racism, our sexism, our tolerance of poverty, our tormenting of the environment.
But there is a force that science does not understand. It is woven into the laws of life itself, into the laws of physics and metaphysics. Some call it karma. But I think of it as the natural tendency of the universe towards balance and harmony. And the force I speak of is implicit in things. What we do will be done to us, the good and the bad.
We are receiving the fruits of the evils we have inflicted on you, and on one another. It comes back to us. You need not have any emotion about this, for it happens as a condition of reality itself.
This baffles science, and confounds those who see only with the eyes.
But we are living now at the beginning of an age of catastrophes. We initiated the catastrophes. We will receive what we are worthy of, receive it with lamentation and judgement.
But dear earth you who inspires our dreams and our art, and feed our bodies and souls, and house our bones when we are gone, you who are one of the wandering stars, you who are made of the dust and magic of countless stars that have leant you their magnificence that you may gift it to us, you dear earth look kindly upon the folly that is the human race, teach us with your silent wisdom how to live again, how to be simple again, and how to rise again to the true nobility that is our true inheritance from the stars.
Ben Okri is a Nigerian-born British poet, playwright and novelist, winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991. He has published eleven novels, four books of short stories, two collections of essays, and three volumes of poems. His books have won numerous international prizes including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa, the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the Chianti Ruffino-Antico Fattore International Literary Prize, and the Premio Grinzane Cavour Prize.
This letter is published in Letters to Earth, a new publication out today of over 100 letters received from a callout issued in collaboration Culture Declares Emergency. Available from bookshop.org.