The Cracker Barrel: Earth walk

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Through the thousands of years of humankind’s adventure on the lovely planet we call Earth, three questions persistently arise.

  • Who are we?
  • Why are we here?
  • Where are we going?

All religions, all philosophies, all cultures are shaped, at root, by responses to the Big Three, and further defined by our individual perceptions and needs. How we answer these questions determines to great degree how we live. How we live, in turn, affects the lives of others around us.
If we think of this life as our Earth Walk, we can begin to see how these responses come into play.

From start to finish, our Earth Walk presents us with choices. What kind of person should we be? What sort of work should we do? Is the main measure of our labor how much we get paid for it? Shall we get married? If so, to whom? What about children? How much of our lives should we devote to them? Are we responsible for the well-being of others, or should our concern be limited only to our own immediate families? Is there a pattern and purpose to life, or is everything accidental? Might life continue in a different form beyond death, or is death the final curtain? Is it true that he or she who dies with the most toys wins?

The answer, in each case, depends in great part on our underlying values, which derive from our response to the Big Three. These values act as our compass. If the compass is dependable, our Earth Walk may prove a satisfying adventure. If the compass is defective, if it doesn’t square with reality, we’re apt to get lost and confused.

How do we know if our compass can be trusted? In part, I think, by looking back at where we’ve been and what we’ve done thus far. If, looking back, we see a swath of wreckage and grief, of hurt and damaged fellow walkers, of torn relationships and broken promises, chances are the compass needs recalibration or replacement.


We might widen the scope of our examination and see ourselves in relationship to other life forms, and ask what sort of impact our Earth Walk has thus far made on them. Have we taken more than our fair share of the planet’s abundance? Do we insist on our personal comfort at the expense of other creatures? Do we leave behind only our footprints, or is our path strewn with garbage, our legacy the creation of trash?

If we are brave enough we might also look ahead and ask ourselves honestly whether, when we pass on, our absence will be celebrated or mourned. Will we have left the planet a better, healthier place, the beneficiary of our time upon it? Or will it be diminished and degraded by our passage?

These, it seems to me, are some of the ways to test our compass, to see if our responses to the Big Three hold water or not.

None of us knows with certainty what lies beyond our Earth Walk. But we can gauge our inward, spiritual health by the outward manifestations of our lives right now. They are forever linked, the outward serving as a reliable indicator of the inward.

Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at

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Craig Nagel, Columnist

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