For the First Time/Seem to Be Happening Again.
~ Where Or When, Rodgers and Hart
Skepticism is a service I could offer. Maybe I could put it on a t-shirt in my next life as a t-shirt artist. Seriously, I earned it early and honestly, a divergent path when I was about 12, reading The Diary of a Young Girl. School assignment or not, Anne’s journal and her terrible fate riveted me. How could it be, I remember asking my agnostic, worldly father, that the Pope who my Catholic faith preached was “infallible,” had done nothing to save Anne Frank and the other Jews of Europe? He looked at me, then away with sadness in his eyes: “It’s complicated.” For him, personally, at the time it was indeed. My mother was a devout Catholic and he had promised to let her raise me as one. He went on to say that a lot of good people could not, or would not, see what was happening in Hitler’s Germany until it was too late to save millions of people. Yes, we won that war, but it was, he said, “a very dark time.”
We are in a dark time now, for some of the same reasons: good people choosing to avert their eyes to and shirk responsibility for what is happening to our planetary home. The most egregious example of this is the forthcoming series of ‘debates’ — if it even deserves the term — where Democratic presidential hopefuls barely mention climate breakdown so widely reported in mainstream media. I have no words to describe the failures in this regard of the other party which, according to California Governor, Gavin Newsom, is finished.
I will support and vote for a candidate who runs against this incumbency, but I am deeply skeptical any candidate has enough street cred for the coming climate emergency in real time. I worry that, as Katrina made evident in New Orleans, it will again be people who have the least to begin with, who suffer the most. As climate impacts multiply, it will be those who can’t afford nutritious food, reliable shelter, medical care, let alone property insurance, secure neighborhoods, escape strategies, or the luxury of climigration (if it comes to that) who will take the hit first and hardest.
This is front of mind because in my last Zoom class in Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects, we spent a lot of time talking about the appropriate humility and openness we must bring to our work with marginalized population groups. Think about it: for indigenous peoples, extinction isn’t exactly a new concept. As facilitators, we’ll need to listen deeply, put in the time to build relationships and trust before we can offer anything else. I am hopeful that, as an immigrant and person of mixed-race, I might have a helpful perspective.
There will always be those who say our current predicament is too complicated to understand. Actually, it is very simple: unwittingly perhaps but more willfully now (despite warnings), we have built a global civilization that, as Joanna Macy puts it, has made of the earth our ‘supply house and sewer.’ This is, as one of my grandsons wisely put it, ‘not a partisan problem’ we face. We got here together and if we are able to turn back from the brink, it will take all of us. May it be so.
You live inside us, beings of the future.
In the spiral ribbons of our cells, you are here. In our rage for the burning forests, the poisoned fields, the oil-drowned seals, you are here. You beat in our hearts through late-night meetings. You accompany us to clear-cuts and toxic dumps and the halls of the lawmakers. It is you who drive our dogged labors to save what is left.
O you who will walk this Earth when we are gone, stir us awake. Behold through our eyes the beauty of this world. Let us feel your breath in our lungs, your cry in our throat. Let us see you in the poor, the homeless, the sick. Haunt us with your hunger, hound us with your claims, that we may honor the life that links us.
You have as yet no faces we can see, no names we can say. But we need only hold you in our mind, and you teach us patience. You attune us to measures of time where healing can happen, where soil and souls can mend. You reveal courage within us we had not suspected, love we had not owned.
O you who come after, help us remember: we are your ancestors. Fill us with gladness for the work that must be done.