I can’t remember the name of the tribe, which is mildly ironic given the nature of their story. And it’s quite a story.It amazes me that regardless of how smart we are and how much we can do, we still know so little about the world.
Only 2 percent of the ocean floor has been explored. Species thought long extinct still turn up every once in a while. And just last year, scientists stumbled upon a valley in New Guinea that had gone untouched by man since the dawn of time. There were plants and insects never seen before. And the animals never bothered hiding or running from the explorers. They didn’t have the experience to tell them humans were a potential threat.
But of course it’s not just plants and animals and hidden valleys that are being discovered. People are, too. And that can lead to all sorts of things.
Take, for instance, the tribe I mentioned above.
They were discovered in 1943 in one of the remotest parts of the Amazon jungle. Contact was carefully arranged. Easy at first, nothing too rash. That seems to be rule number one in those situations–don’t overwhelm the tribe.
It didn’t work. Here’s why.
The difference between these particular people and the others that pop up every few years was that their uniqueness was foundational to their belief system. They’d been so cut off from civilization for so long that they were convinced they were the only humans in the world. No one outside of their small tribe existed. And they liked that idea.
Finding out that not only were there other people in the world, there were billions of them, was too much. The trauma of learning they were not unique was so debilitating that the entire tribe almost died out. Even now, sixty-nine years later, only a few remain.
Sad, isn’t it?
I’ll admit the temptation was there for me to think of that tribe as backward and primitive for thinking such a thing. But then I realized they weren’t. When you get right down to it, their beliefs and the truth they couldn’t carry made them more human than a lot of people I know.
Because we all want to be unique.
We all want to think we’re special, needed by God and man for some purpose that will outlast us. We want to be known and remembered. We all know on a certain level that we will pass this way but once, and so we want whatever time we have in this world to matter.
That’s not a primitive notion. That’s a universal one.
I think at some point we’re all like members of that tribe. We have notions of greatness, of doing at most the impossible and at least the improbable. Of blazing a new trail for others to follow. It’s a fire that burns and propels our lives forward.
I will make a difference, we say. People will know I was here.
But then we have a moment like that tribe had, when we realize there are a lot of other people out there who are more talented and just as hungry. People who seem to catch the breaks we don’t and have the success that eludes us. And that notion that we were different and special fades as we’re pulled into the crowd of humanity and told to take our rightful place among the masses.
It’s tough, hanging on to a dream. Tough having to talk yourself into holding the course rather than turning back. Tough having to summon faith amidst all the doubt.
But I know this:
That tribe was right.
We are all unique.
We are all here for a purpose, and it’s a holy purpose. One that cannot be fulfilled by anyone else and depends upon us.
We are more than flesh and blood. More than DNA and RNA and genes and neurons. And this world is more than air and water and earth. Whether we know it or not, whether we accept it or not, our hearts are a battleground between the two opposing forces of light and dark.
One side claims we are extraordinary. The other claims we’re common.
It’s up to us to decide the victor.