The other morning, I woke sobbing from a nightmare about the raging fire in Arizona. It has now become the largest fire in Arizona's history. It took me all day to get over the fear that had overwhelmed my sleep. And, as these things tend to do, images of the fire braided themselves into images of the flooding Missouri, images of drought in Australia, images of the Japanese tsunami....and a cord of anxiety began to wrap itself around my soul. Ashes to ashes...dust to dust. I've got a whopping case of climate blues.
I do not want to be de-sensitized to what is going on in our world. I want to keep connecting the dots; I am eager for the fresh insights of reporters, writers, philosophers, filmmakers, about the growing impact of climate disruption on our lives. I'm thinking about this daily in my work with Moms Clean Air Force.
But every once in a while, I want a break.
Not so easy.
At the end of a long day on trains and highways, I relished the thought of a quiet evening with a book or a movie. I opened the cheery red envelope from Netflix. Gasland. Uh-oh. I plan to watch that highly recommended film about the dangers of hydrofracking, but not tonight.
I glanced at my night table. I could finish reading Susan Freinkel's brilliant book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, as I want to write about that for Slow Love Life readers. But not tonight.
I could wander through the Internet, looking for humor or light-hearted fun, though I've made a deal with myself not to turn on my computer after seven or eight. I find that being online is as stimulating as a shot of espresso. I've broken that promise many times. But not tonight.
I'm too fragile. Too worried about the perilous state of the planet. Too anxious about how far we're pushing our luck. Too tired to summon resilience.
There's still some daylight, so I venture out among the flowers. The crushing heat last week, followed by rain, has brought forth the peonies, even if they are beaten down. The roses are rotting, their fragrance powdery. I decide that I need to spend some time peering into the heart of a flower. No matter what state it is in--shredded, rotted, wilted, drooping--it is alive and beautiful. I like to think the flowers are waiting to be admired but of course they could care less. Mother Nature, as we imagine her, could care less whether or not we are in her garden.
But I could not care more. I want to hang on to those flowers for dear life.
While I am peering at the swelling carpels of a peony I notice that what I thought was a petal is actually a wisp of white feather. Is there a mangled bird nearby? Did a tiny creature fall afoul of a hawk, or a cat? Was there an act of violence, or is that a projection of my mood? Perhaps that feather floated serenely out of the sky, cast off a fleet wing, nothing more, nothing less.
It is about modulation, isn't it? The only cure for the climate blues--really, for any kind of heartsick blues--is to give yourself a good rest. Just long enough to remember that there are solutions. But not for too long: The price you pay for giving up on love (of people or planets) is way too high. Rest up, then get back in the game.
But not tonight.
Tonight, I want to retreat. Next in the pile of books by my bed? Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts. Not exactly the sort of light reading I had in mind....
...but I can't help myself. I stay up half the night, absorbed by the fascinating story of a slightly hapless, mild-mannered American Ambassador, William E. Dodd, in Berlin in 1933, watching helplessly as Hitler solidifies his terrifying hold on the German public and politics.
What rivets me in this history is the same question that perplexes me now: What took so long? Where was the leadership? Why didn't people see where things were going--even though the terrible evidence was piling up? Why didn't they do something before events became cataclysmic?
Why do we turn from difficult truths?
Some of the answers are obvious, some understandable, some perverse. But there remains something unfathomable about the way we behave, collectively, in the face of slowly gathering catastrophe.
Before heading in from the garden for the night, I had noticed how the evening light caught the edge of a peony petal so it glowed like a candle. As I watched the sky darken, the chords of heavenly choirs began pealing in my mind--what a gloriously gorgeous planet we inhabit. How lucky we are to be here. I want my children's children to partake of this blessing.
We may always be mysterious to ourselves.
At the back of those shadowy blues I caught the glimmer of another intense, precious feeling. I felt just the gentlest nudge, as if from the moist twitching nose of the puzzled rabbit pulled out of a hat.
Who knows how it happens? But there is always hope. There has to be.