“Cloud Atlas,” Overcoming Fear, and Drops in the Ocean

“Cloud Atlas,” Overcoming Fear, and Drops in the Ocean

What does it mean to live in a world with so much violence? How can you overcome the overwhelming feeling that it’s too much, that there’s nothing you can do? Dana from Lavender Moon talks “Cloud Atlas,” converging stories, and finding your own hope for the world. 

This is a part of the Summer Reading Coven series hosted by Northern Lights Witch. Throughout the summer, we will be highlighting books that have moved us deeply and impacted our practices as witches and occult practitioners. 

Cloud Atlas isn’t exactly an easy read. (It’s not an easy watch, either, if you’ve seen the movie, but that’s because the movie is terrible. The book is not terrible.) It contains six stories, each related to yet simultaneously unique from the rest.

Cloud Atlas

The novel opens in 1850 as the journal of an American traveling in New Zealand, then the next chapter picks up in 1931 as the letters a young musician writes to his lover while he studies under a famous composer. Next it’s 1975 and a journalist is putting her life on the line to investigate a potentially unsafe power plant, and then it’s the story of a publisher in the present day, before moving to revolutionaries in futuristic Korea and, finally, a first-person post-apocalyptic account of a society living in what was once Hawaii. The book is arranged so that each story is told in two parts, building up to the final story and then counting down again so that it starts and ends with the American’s journal. Each story is so unique, so wildly different from the next, that you could probably read just one of them and take something away from it. And yet that would be missing a huge, wild, and wonderful part of the experience.

The protagonists in these stories never met each other – they are never even alive at the same time. And yet each of their lives is affected by the others in some remote way, a ripple effect through time of one person changing another without even realizing it, and then that person going on to change the next. It’s summed up beautifully in a line near the closing of the book, as the American traveler muses on his experiences:

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

This line had a profound spiritual effect on me and every time I read it, I find myself tearing up with emotion. I was nine years old on September 11, 2001, and even at that young age I realized that what had happened that day meant the end of the world as I knew it. Growing up in a post-9/11 society meant constant fear – first fear of the Other, as that was simplest for a child to understand, and then a new and deeper fear upon growing and learning that evil really has no face. That people of all walks of life can do bad things, and that they do. The world felt to me like a scale, precariously balancing between good and evil, and ever since that day every tragedy in the news, every horrifying event that happens in the world around us, has felt to me like another rock dropped heavily on evil’s side. I have always considered myself an optimist, but a lifetime of fear left me feeling lost.

What can one person do in the face of so much violence, so much hatred? What difference could I possibly make?

Cloud Atlas changed all of that for me. All of us are nothing more than just drops in an ocean, but even if you add just one small drop, it’s a different ocean than it was before – it’s the ocean plus one, plus you. We feel so hopeless in the face of a task like changing the world, but the world has already been forever changed simply because we exist in it. And if we’re just one drop, then so was Martin Luther King Jr. So was Mother Theresa. So was everyone who has ever made a difference in this world – just one drop with a big, glorious ripple effect.

Perhaps we can’t all go down in history as the person who solved world hunger or brought about peace, but maybe the little things we do each day can help create the person who can. Speaking up, having compassion, and starting conversations are not small things – in fact, you can see the impact of these actions immediately. This life is made up of people and their choices, and one choice, no matter how small, sends a whole ripple of new choices into motion.

What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?

This world with you alive and living is different than a world without you. The world where you had cereal for breakfast this morning is different than a world where you had eggs instead. I can’t tell you what those differences mean, and I’m not going to tell you that someone will cure cancer one day because you decided to shoot a smile at your barista this morning. But even if you know that nothing more will come of it than making that barista’s day, wouldn’t you rather smile anyway? Isn’t that still one more rock dropped on good’s side of the scale?

It’s not that one person can’t change the world – it’s that no matter what we do, no matter how big or small an action we take, changing the world is all we can do. You are making a new world every time you hold the door or don’t, call your mother or don’t, give change to a homeless man or don’t. This life is an endless ebb and flow of tidal waves and tiny splashes, one drop after another, molding and washing and shaping this life that we all share. The world is yours and it is mine and it is ours, and we are both creating it right now. What kind of world do you want it to be?

Dana is a 24-year-old Sagittarius from Chicagoland. By day she works as an editor. By night she’s usually asleep. In between, she finds time to do all the other things she loves, like blogging, astrology, reading tarot, drinking tea, and devouring books. She also makes a mean soft-boiled egg. She believes there’s magic in the everyday and tries her best to find it. You can find her over at www.lavender-moon.com, dishing it out about tarot and spirituality for the modern gal. 

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