“I’ll be here when it all gets weird”
- Flogging Molly If I ever leave this world alive
It might seem counterproductive to start a journey forward with a goal to inspire hope in others by first acknowledging that some of the things we are used to in our society, our natural world, and the very ways we structure our economy will likely, inevitably, come to an end, but that is precisely what I plan to do.
I am not here to convince you of the realities and consequences of our changing climate. Eventually, I believe, everyone will come to acceptance because it will not be long before the impacts are too obvious to deny. Things are going to get weird. We will need each other, every one of us, to get through it.
I have come to believe, and am working to accept, that civilization, as it now presents itself, cannot survive the changes that are coming, but I do not think this means the world is ending. We have a choice, as humans, to decide for ourselves which direction we want to choose, which path we want to follow, which stories will define us. I believe it is important to accept that we are going to lose some things about our world that we love. That through accepting and processing our grief over this in a healthy way we will have the capacity to move forward in a constructive way instead of defaulting to our destructive stories from the past.
No one wants to be good at handling grief. It is not a task any of us seek experience in, yet it is one of the most universal of human experiences. How do we navigate the grief that will come with our changing world while actively adapting to and accepting said change? I think we need to start now. Sometimes I am envious of the people who do not believe. They do not have to sit with and carry this weight of knowing around with them. Their present is not burdened with worry about the future. But, in the end, I would rather know. I would rather have time to grieve and say my goodbyes, I would rather be ready to let go and move on, to be open and prepared for change so when it is time for me to move or time to accept others who have been displaced I am ready.
I have had ample opportunity to grieve the changes to our natural landscape over the last few years, in a very direct and unexpected way. I volunteer at a state park with a very rare species of pine tree. A species on the edge in the best of conditions is always the first to falter when things begin to change. We have watched these trees die by the hundreds because of drought and when at last it rains, it rains so much faster and harder than normal, that the oldest, healthiest, fall.
You might say, they are just trees. I am certain there are some that will. But in their fate I see ours. I see villages built on permafrost that are sinking and people who have lived there all of their lives are having to decide to mitigate or retreat. I see island nations whose residents are watching the sea levels rise and know that their homes will be the first inundated but their voices are ignored on the global, political stage. I see what has already happened in places like Syria. I know that these changes will disproportionately impact communities and people already on the edge of survival, just like these trees. My heart feels heavy, I grieve, I feel powerless, I am afraid. I cry.
Then I seek out comfort. I see my fellow volunteers, visitors, loved ones, strangers feeling these same things. I find connection in that community. I focus on the things I can impact, locally, and discover, to my surprise, that I am not alone. That by creating a space of kindness where we focus on shared goals to make real change we not only, succeed in making change, but we also build something resilient and beautiful that was stronger than what we had before. We become the bridge to a better future. Not everyone will be willing to cross it and many will attempt to destroy it but if we can hold fast to those simple ideals, our common humanity, those shared goals guided by kindness and acceptance we will persevere. But we must first grieve. Now, while we have the time. Visit the places you love, walk in the forests, down main street, on the water’s edge. Memorize those spaces so you can carry them forward with you. Be ready to let go.
If we do not prepare ourselves for the changes that are coming we will be taken by surprise, fight or flight will kick in, and we will respond from a place of fear and react without thought or care for consequences. We have seen this story played over and again throughout human history when people have given in to fear, when they tell themselves, and others, dark stories about the future where there is not enough for everyone so we must cast out, defend, protect, divide, and blame the other. We must not give these stories any power over us. We must remember that for every dark moment in human history there have been people who were not dominated by fear, who acted in both large and small ways to fight against the violent, divisive, and destructive actions of others. People who believe that no matter what we have enough in this world for everyone to survive and thrive. These are the stories to which we need to give the most attention. These are the stories we need to tell, the stories we need to remember, the stories we need to live in order to have the courage to confront the changes we are facing. These are the stories that will see us through the loss, the grief, and the letting go, and the acceptance that will be required of us so that we can be open to starting over in new places, accepting refugees into the places we call home, and most importantly so that we can share our resources and habitable spaces so that everyone has enough.
Now, if you are still reading, this might be the part where you expect me to talk about politics, or perhaps revolution, some massive, sudden, overthrow of all you believe and hold dear, but I am not going to do that. That is not where we need to start. We need to start with connection, building community, focusing on the simple things that make us human, that bind us to one another, sharing meals, listening to music, hearing each other’s stories, sharing a drink, these are things we can hold on to no matter how much the world changes. This is where humanity can find its salvation and we don’t have to wait. We can start anytime. Start with the people you encounter every day, especially those providing a service, make sure you really see them, make sure you see them as human, be kind. Enjoy the world we live in, even as it changes. Hold fast to your beautiful memories of things lost or changed, but allow yourself to make new ones. Find ways to enjoy the time you are living in because it will give you strength to carry you through the grief that will come with loss. Get out and enjoy the flowers, the water, the mountains, each other. If the worst happens, or if it does not, you will have made a life worth living. Enjoy the passing of time. Plan for the future but do not get stuck in the possibility of it. Live where you are. Find ways to make it joyful. Spread that around a little.