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Our Gilgamesh Dilemma

The Coldwater Counseling Center, of which Steve has been the President for over 30 years, shares Steve's article series The Symbolic Life in their biannual newsletters.


Ironically, I began last summer’s newsletter with this statement: “We have had a challenging year on many levels from politics to the environment.” Little did anyone know what we would be faced with this year. Nature spoke first with the emergence of COVID-19. No country in the world has been exempt, though many have dealt with it better than others. To our collective shame we have had more deaths than any other country even though we boast the best medical resources. Over 127,000 people (and counting) have died in the United States so far as a result of this coronavirus.

Then several weeks ago we were painfully and profoundly made aware of a psychological virus that still deeply permeates our culture with the video showing the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. In psychological terms an insidious cultural complex once more raised its ugly head. Yet despite the pervasive coronavirus, many people could no longer sit back and pretend such things don’t happen. For unfortunately they happen far too often.

In the Gilgamesh epic, the world’s oldest story, we see the problem in the title character right from the start. Gilgamesh has had great success and built a great wall around his city of Uruk, and a fine temple to the god Anu and the goddess Ishtar. But immediately we hear how the people, especially young men and women suffer from his treatment. So the people protest to the gods, and the goddess Aruru fashions Enkidu, the Wildman, who roams free in nature as a counterpart to Gilgamesh. A priestess of Ishtar humanizes Enkidu and brings him to Uruk. His presence balances life for a while until Gilgamesh’s hubris causes the gods to decree the death of Enkidu, who has become like a brother to Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh learns from his grief over the loss of Enkidu what it means to be truly human...

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