Trying to face environmental meltdown

I’m still working on my foundational story. It is taking much longer than expected. I’ve been following a recent suggestion to examine my foundational story at its beginning, how it has evolved along the way, and what it is now.

Much of my foundational story is about care for Mother Earth. I lived my entire adult life without owning a car, being able to do so in part because of the barely adequate city bus system in Indianapolis. I don’t keep bringing this up for self-promotion. Rather, to point out everyone living in the early 1970’s could see the damage being done by the clouds of noxious fumes coming out of tailpipes. Since then, catalytic converters hid the visible damage, but the greenhouse gases continue to spew out.

We each made a choice.

  • either stop the pollution
  • or deem fouling the air with automobile exhaust an acceptable choice for our convenience

If we had decided to tackle the pollution and greenhouse gases then, we would not be in this environmental catastrophe now.

No one knows what the future holds, but it is no longer possible to hide the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. High temperature records are broken daily. We see shrinking lakes and rivers, violent storms, flooding, and forest fires.

I’ve studied and prayed about this my whole life. I’m broken down by the continuous stress of knowing. At times I’ve felt like giving up. Wanting to stop thinking about all of this.

I don’t have a plan for what to do when water stops flowing from the faucet. When the grocery stores no longer have food. When no one picks up the trash. When there is no gas for cars and trucks. When hospitals close. When houses are destroyed by fires, winds, or floods. When there is no Internet. No electricity.

But I do have two tools to help me make a plan. For some hope.

  • My Quaker faith and faith community
  • And my Mutual Aid accomplices, who are not just making plans but implementing solutions now

People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.

IT IS BITTER TEA THAT INVOLVES YOU SO: A SERMON ON HOPE by Quinn Norton, April 30, 2018

Our country is primed for an overthrow of power within rapidly shifting currents. The land has seen devastation over the winter’s long night, but now sings songs of rebirth inside the blossoms of the cherry tree. At least in this hemisphere. The people…well, we’re all a little worn out thanks to a heavy hitting astrological and planetary realignment. Does anyone else feel like they’ve hardly had a moment to process and catch a breath before Mercury went Gatorade? Again? We’re being tested. Within each survivor is a warrior. Can we captain this ship through unknown waters? Are we braver than our fears? Will we earn a seat at the table, our place as a future ancestor? Oh, hell yes.

Nahko Bear

When I realized this, I felt even more hopeless, but, thankfully, my Quakerism led me to another definition, which is also in the dictionary. In addition to defining hope in terms of desire, expectation, and fulfillment, most dictionaries provide a secondary, archaic definition based on faith. This older and much less common meaning is about trusting life, without the expectation of attaining particular outcomes any time soon. This type of hope has a quiet but unshakeable faith in whatever happens and in the human capacity to respond to it constructively. It is a positive, but not necessarily optimistic, attitude to life that does not depend on external conditions or circumstances.

I call this “intrinsic hope” because it comes from deep inside us. Václav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, said in Disturbing the Peace that hope “is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. . . . It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” To me, intrinsic hope is also that of God in everyone; the inner light; the quiet, still voice; and the experience of the Great Mystery.

A Quaker Perspective on Hope By Kate Davies, Friends Journal, September 1, 2018

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