Re-discovering Cynicism

Re-discovering Cynicism

butchart gardens crystal ballHelp! I am trapped inside the Biblical book of Ecclesiasteslooking out onto the world.

Vanity of vanities, says Kohelet, it’s all vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Yes, I’m a social media junkie. And I am so tired of this summer’s news cycle. Now that the cease fire seems to be holding in Gaza, it’s no longer interesting to North Americans. ISIS atrocities got a few days and then everything switched to Robin Williams’ sad suicide. Tomorrow someone else will star.

The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them (1:11).

Article after article. Op-ed after op-ed. A parade of photoshopped images, each more ludicrously labelled than the next. These distortions fill our minds, and become the units of our thought. Learned leaders, aspiring pundits, and self-image creators cycle and recycle perspectives. Of course, they must weigh in to stay “relevant.” And then empty out, and weigh in again.

Round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns (1:6).

Yes, I know how the Facebook news feed works. It feeds you what it thinks you want. Maybe, I thought, I’ll click on a few crow and raven posts, to get some distracting animal action going. Soon, I received a poster:

Crow did you know

Surprise! Someone has discovered that birds have brains. They see and hear and process information. Their behaviour is not random. They engage in informed self-protection. Sigh.

Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us (1:10).

Parents of toddlers write blogs instructing one another how to raise children.

Budding postcolonial theorists meet in cafes to deconstruct the idea of “privilege” and forget to bus their dishes.

Artists and photographers create new, radical works suggesting that women may have value beyond their looks.

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains the same forever. (1:4).

Still, I should not begrudge young people joy in their discoveries. Learning is exciting. Enlarging the self with new insight can feel like a gift of divine grace.

To the one who pleases, God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy (2:26).

Even I take joy in discovery.

Recently, at the Grind Cafe, a bald-faced hornet buzzed at my window. Trapped inside, he rested, then flew at the bright window, rested, flew, rested, flew, and then crawled behind the table.

Bald_face_Hornet-2I leaned over the edge and looked directly into his striped face. “Hi, beautiful,” I said. “The window isn’t safe. Here, climb on my notebook.” The hornet crawled quickly up the ledge and made a beeline for my notebook, settling on the middle of a page. I carried the notebook outdoors, to the nearest quiet street.

Not knowing the location of this hornet’s nest, or even much about his lifestyle, I decided to offer him a choice of environments. Flower leaves? Not interested. Grass? Soil? No and no. Finally, I touched the notebook against a tree trunk. Yes, bark is just right, thank you! He quickly headed off and started to climb.

Only a day later, a potter wasp got trapped under a glass tabletop on our deck. She buzzed loudly, flying up at the translucent table top over and over. However, the only route out was down. For just an instant, I focused my attention on her and gestured, moving my arm downwards. Immediately she flew down and out to freedom.

The fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same…they all have the same breath (3:19).

“You’re really weird,” said my husband. Communicating with insects seemed magical to him, like I had discovered a special shared psychic wavelength. So it seemed to me as well; surprised by the ease of communication, I felt giddy.

Who knows the interpretation of a thing? Wisdom makes one’s face shine, and the hardness of one’s countenance is changed (8:1).

Over coffee, I told a bee biologist, “I’ve had some interesting experiences with wasps lately.” But as soon as I began my story, I realized how ludicrous I sounded. DUH DUH DUH. Of course these insects responded to my intentional gestures. That’s how their species communicates, with body language. They pay attention to each other’s movements.

End of the matter; it’s all been heard…there is nothing new under the sun (12:13; 1:9).

Not even cynicism.


Images: Crystal ball by Laura Duhan Kaplan; Crow poster posted on fb’s Crow and Raven Lovers group; Bald-faced hornet,, (c) Kenn Wingle; Boar Scarer video by Laura Duhan Kaplan.


  1. Laura I love this! Next the you talk to the wasps or bees ask them how to solve the bee extinction problem and please tell them we are so grateful for their existence

  2. Obvious or not, I love that you have figured out how to communicate with wasps and bees!

    I am weary of the summer’s news cycle, too, and of the whole phenomenon of “news” writ large. I just want to hear stories about people being kind to one another. Everything else seems…well, hevel, I suppose. Thanks, Kohelet.

    (I’ve considered starting a twitter account for the name Ezekiel and tweeting his book line by line as though it were happening now. But it occurs to me now that Kohelet might be an even better choice…)

    1. Rachel, thanks so much for this comment. I love your idea about the twitter accounts. Timeless wisdom, for sure.

      Maybe as I teach Wisdom Literature this term, I’ll just tweet a random, thought provoking quote each day.

  3. I loved this piece. Will be teaching Ecclesiastes for Melton Grad’s in Miami this fall and would love to use it! Let me know if that is okay….

  4. >>> . . . For just an instant, I focused my attention on her and gestured, moving my arm downwards. Immediately she flew down and out to freedom. . . .

    If that happened to me often (or consistently), I'd start to worry about being a character in an SF novel. But if it's just occasional, not a problem.

    Kohelet makes good reading for these times. The cease-fire is over as I write.

    1. Thanks, Charles. Part I of your comment made me laugh. Part II, yes, as I discovered it, I cried,

  5. I really enjoyed your analogy of news media as hevel-havalim, vanity of vanities. And: “Budding postcolonial theorists meet in cafes to deconstruct the idea of ‘privilege’and forget to bus their dishes.” Seen any of those in Vancouver?
    And then you as insect-whisperer. Makes me aspire to treat insects better (sometimes).

  6. You touched my heart with tears of joy! There is a wonder beyond our knowing.

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