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Wake Up! Our World Is Dying and We're All in Denial

Had we been in a trance? I wanted to shout, "Wake up! Please wake up! Our old future is gone. Matters are urgent. We have to do something now."

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In a speech at a rally, I recalled that night. I told the crowd, "Aidan may be small to TransCanada. He may be small to our governor and legislators, but he's big to me, and I'm going to take care of him."

In January 2012, President Obama denied a permit to TransCanada because of concerns about Nebraska. But the outcome is uncertain, and we may yet lose our fight. We're still working. John Hansen, head of the Nebraska Farmer's Union, said, "Working for a cause isn't like planting corn. You don't throw in some seeds and walk away. It's like milking cows, something you do over and over, and can never ignore."

Our coalition isn't about odds. When we started, we didn't think we had a chance. We did it because it was the right thing to do, and we couldn't let our state be destroyed without a protest. Our reward for this work has been a sense of empowerment and membership in what Martin Luther King, Jr., called a beloved community.

From this work, I've learned that saving the world and savoring it aren't polarities, but turn out to be deeply related. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "The best way to save the environment is to save the environmentalist."

George Orwell argued that pessimism is reactionary because it makes the very idea of improving the world impossible. I found that whether or not we believe we can change the world, even in a small way, acting as if we can is the healthiest emotional stance to take in the face of injustice and destruction.

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"He who fights the future has a dangerous enemy," said Søren Kierkegaard. Life is stressful. We think something is wrong with us, but the problems are endemic and systemic. As a people, we've lost our grounding in deep time and in our place. At root, our problems are relationship problems. We have a disordered relationship with the web of life.

Right now, the more we connect the dots between events, the more frightened we become. This reminds me of a night I slept in a tent with three of my grandchildren. Kate was 6, Aidan was 4, and Claire was 2. Claire and Aidan were blissfully happy. They snuggled and listened to the sounds of the cicadas and night birds. Meanwhile, Kate kept telling me she was scared and that she wanted to sleep in the house. Stupidly, I chided her for her fears. I asked, "Kate, you are the big sister and the oldest. Why can't you be as brave as your sister and brother?" She wailed, "Nonna, they're little. They don't know enough to be scared!"

These days, I often feel like Kate did that night. I know too much about deforestation, nuclear power plants, our tainted food supply, and our collapsing fisheries. Sometimes I wish I didn't know all these things. But if we adults don't face and come to grips with our current reality, who will?

Neither individuals nor cultures can keep up with the pace of change. Recently I was telling my grandchildren about all the things that didn't exist when I was a girl. I mentioned televisions (in my rural area), cell phones, the Internet, cruise control, texting, computerized toys, laptops, video recorders, headphones for music, and microwaves. The list was so long that my grandson Aidan asked me, "Nonna, did they have apples when you were a girl?"

We're bombarded by too much information, too many choices, and too much complexity. Our problem-solving abilities and our communication and coping skills haven't evolved quickly enough to sustain us. We find ourselves rushed, stressed, fatigued, and upset.

 
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