On a Scale of One to Ten – Thirty

Pam Snow/Canadian Press)
Pam Snow/Canadian Press)

This has not been a winter to speak aloud.

My words have frozen in my throat or in the pages of my private books and rarely been able to cross the ice to the outer world.  I know that sound carries best over open water.  It seems that those waters have to be flowing freely, not suspended in a bitter February’s thoughtfulness.

Wait, I misspeak.  It is not I that is bitter, but the weather.  And even then, I am spinning frigid tales and  manipulating them for my own rhetoric.  The view from my front window offers grass like straw and sad heaps of forgotten leaves with only the occasional sad mountain of snow.  We expect flurries throughout the weekend – it’s still winter after all – but she has let her white cloak slip low enough to prove that not even the ice can last forever.

I spoke of returning the other day.  Returning is a long and careful process.  It can mean the traveler is still a great distance from home.

When my healer experiences great spiritual shifts she talks about all the internal furniture being rearranged. I still live in a new house that is short on chairs and couches, so I’ll stick to the images of the landscape – the view is always free even if we can’t yet afford new bookshelves. 

My inner landscape has been reformed during a 10 days of sickness and soul searching. I’ve watched new river valleys form and have shored up my retaining walls.  I have repaved a concrete wasteland with a rainbow of precious stones.

I only weep a little at the changes being wrought, the unfamiliar, though beautiful, territory being forged within.  A new home is a great milestone, but one that is surely accompanied by mourning for all that was.  New houses also mean a great many stubbed toes when one needs a glass of water in the middle of the night.

So I am rejoicing in my new caverns of joy and testing the echoes against my new interior walls.  But I am still receiving snippets of news reports about the maelstrom out there that seems to have nothing to do with this inner transformation or the February sunshine beyond the shadows of my front porch.

I am still a creature of this world for all that I have spent the better part of two weeks diving in my own ocean.  I realize that I am caught in this web of shift and discomfort and even chaos that has caught hold of our societies.

In the midst of all this tumult, there was the voice of a man from Canada who spoke with the disjointed music of Scotland and the mid-west and the southern Maritimes that I know so well.  Give yourself a couple of minutes to listen to the story of five men in Seal Cove, Newfoundland who saved a pod of dolphins trapped in the thickening ice of their harbor.  Listen to his harmonies and his tale and think about what you might do that would lead you to reply “Oh, on scale of one to ten, thirty” when someone asked you how you feel.

There are parts of me feel like I am at a thirty, and there are bits of me that feel too lost in the flux of the soul to take stock and realize this journey is all about elation.  But, as I continue this process of returning I think I have found one more guidepost of inspiration that will help me redefine my internal measurement of all that is good.

Advertisements

Returning Sun and Waning Moon: Presidents and Progressions

dsc00228There are some things that you do not blog about, at least not until the lessons have been distilled and the gory details been sublimated into lessons and broader examples. It is important to me that I offer wisdom here, not a transcript of my life. The sanctity of my inner world and those of my loved ones depends on my understanding that difference.

I have been working with some challenges that were bound to demand my attention eventually, and so I have stayed away from daily posting. If I had tried harder, I could have scraped together the time to spin out some rhetoric and offer some platitidtudes, but I think my readers are too smart to read what would have simply been empty pleasantries.

Today, I am still dancing warily with this sort of communication, afraid the necessary veils may slip and I may reveal too much and also worried that I am not in a place to yet believe my own optimism.

What I can offer is my husband’s comment on his way out the door as he put on his coat to brave the 6:30 a.m. chill: “I think the sun is actually trying to come up.”

The winter solstice was one month ago today. Despite our darkest December convictions, the sun is proving that it will in fact return and that we will once again be taught the joys of daylight.

How perfect it is to notice that the light is finally getting the upper hand on the first morning that the sun has risen over a new family in the White House.

Hope and dawn. Those two ideas are always linked in metaphor. I feel blessed to watch that metaphor take on a new sense of reality as I watch the horizon brighten a little earlier each morning.

lincoln-memorialThinking about politics and the skies, this morning I looked up to a waning moon again the rosy east. I would never have gotten married or planned any other life changing event while the moon was in its phase of decrease, but there is something fitting about January 20 falling during the fading Wolf Moon. As much as we are celebrating all that is fresh and new in an Obama administration, we also recognize the diminishing influence of fear and aggression that have marked the last eight years. And that incredible inaugural address yesterday was as much about letting the greed and irresponsibility fall away as it was about adding new challenges and strength to the American character.

APTOPIX Obama InaugurationAnd for all of the meaning that the astrologers may assign to the phases of Earth’s closest neighbor and dearest friend, we must remember that there is always beauty in our moon, no matter what face she shows us.

We need to be able to find that sort of beauty in ourselves and one another. May our new president inspire us. May we find the courage to act upon that inspiration.

Frugality Is Not a Crime

German chapel ornament

When you have to do it, belt-tightening’s no joke. But, gladly, most Americans don’t have to — not even in this economy. […]

If you’re blessed with good fortune in these hard times, you’re not helping anyone if you let frugality chic stop you and yours from having a very Merry Christmas indeed.

I nearly choked on my soy milk when I heard this commentary on Marketplace this morning. It’s yet another story about how resisting the urge to spend as much as possible this Christmas makes you worse than Scrooge – it makes you the scourge of capitalism and the American way of life.

I make no claims about having much knowledge of the economy. Nearly all of my news comes from NPR, and I know that’s not like being a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the commentator, Will Wilkinson, is exactly right and austerity is one of the factors that makes an already shaky economy begin to look even worse.

My issue is not with this interpretation of the the law of supply and demand, it is that we are stuck in a system that can only be salvaged if we acquire more stuff.

Wasn’t it greed that got us into this problem in the first place? How can buying more Gap sweaters in bizarre colors just because they are on sale and your sweetie should have a few more boxes to open make the world any more livable?

Change is a scary thing. Realizing that the global economic structures are being turned upside down and may never look the same again is frightening. Trying to imagine what might come after U.S. domination seems unfathomable for most of us in these fifty states.

Clinging to the very structures that have been proven to betray us is not helping matters. Continuing to shop like everything is normal isn’t the soothing balm the ad campaigns and the radio experts are trying to convince us it is.

detail of our treeWhat if we are choosing to buy less and handcraft more? What if it just makes sense to give to charity instead of purchase a book that your uncle will never give himself time to read? What if this down economy, even if you are yet unscathed, is just the reason you were looking for to ditch materialism and show your family you love them by giving them less clutter, not more?

I cannot believe that this financial crisis is just a fluke of the markets. With all of the internal shifts that are forcing people to look at their lives in entirely new ways, we need our relationship with money and consumerism to be transformed as well.

Our souls need room to breathe. Wouldn’t there be a lot more time to figure out how to do that if we spent less time in the mall and less time dusting our new trinkets?

Our earth needs room to breathe. Won’t easing the yearly December burden of delivery trucks and crowded landfills and depleted resources be the greatest gift you could give to your Mother this holiday?

Global Warming and The Place Between Mourning and Action

Six Degrees Could Change the WorldLast night, I declared that the thing that breaks open my heart, the thing that wakes me at three a.m. and turns my sweetly oblivious sleep toward the direction of nightmare is the spectre of global warming. A person who I love has lived his day under a bleak cloud after watching the same program on the National Geographic channel that I did last night, Six Degrees Could Change the World. I was able to tell him that such information galvanizes me at this point; I have done my mourning for the devastation that our modern lifestyle has cast upon this earth, now I am ready to act. Of course, I am realizing now that I may have just been trying to comfort him. I know that I will not finish mourning our stifling planet until I can understand what it means when the glacier at the head of the Ganges has melted and the coral reefs around Australia have all died, and how can I ever comprehend the destruction of natural wonders so vast? It is just as difficult as trying to wrap my mind around the forces that created these beauties in the first place.

The decision to really take on this issue, and make it something that I am aware of with each cup of coffee passed to me in a paper cup and with each shampoo bottle I toss into the trash when I see it is not a number 1,2,3, or 5 and the recycling center has no interest in it, will force my everyday life into a new perspective. Am I really ready for that? Can I find a solution to the 37 miles I drive alone each day on my way to and from work rather than just climb into the car guiltily each morning? Can I bear the inconvenience of keeping a plastic mug and silverware in my purse so that I can cut down on at least one cup and one plastic fork everyday? Can I find somewhere other than beneath torrents of hot water that flow from the shower head to do my best thinking?

Situations like these might lead to minor annoyances or changes in behavior; in the end I will probably reap the great immediate gains of feeling virtuous and proactive. The real problem would arise when I begin to imagine how changes I may feel compelled to make in my own life might make those around me uncomfortable or upset. George Monbiot’s 2006 book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning was the first to introduce me to the idea of “love miles” and how those are a part of the environment’s undoing. Inwardly, I “tsk, tsk” at the perpetual business travelers who circumnavigate the globe several times a year in the pursuit of universal capitalism. Monbiot tells his readers that they must accept that one of the great entitlements of western society, air travel, would need to be a thing of the past if we are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the degree he believes necessary: 90% by 2030. How do I deal with not being able to fly to see my friends in Ireland or that I might be contributing to the devastation of the Amazon if I went on an “eco-tour” there. I am still unready to think that it would be better for Galway Bay if I never went to see it again. What is even more difficult to imagine are those “love miles” that don’t seem like a vacation or a luxury but necessity like the two hour drive to see my grandfather or the four hour ride to the Cape to see my folks.

What would it mean to be of a generation that once had the entire world at its feet, but now may only have it at its fingertips, making the Internet into the only responsible way to reach out and experience the world?

Perhaps we could realize that we are actually creatures who can only truly experience the world as far as the visible horizon like David Abram talks about in The Spell of the Sensuous. Maybe his vision of local culture is not just a quaint homage to the indigenous peoples of this world; maybe their way of life is a model for our future.

And I have not even addressed the idea of action. I am certainly not finished mourning yet.

Recognizing that “Six Degrees Could Change MY World”

NASA The dryer is humming in the background, but the house is only lit by one compact fluorescent and the glow of the television and my laptop. There’s a cup of cold, forgotten coffee next to me, but I am drinking water we filter at home out of a Nalgene bottle I have used a thousand times. We went for a nice hike today, despite the gusty wind and the snow, but we drove to the top of the mountain for a change of scenery rather than take the path from the backyard.

My husband is watching a National Geographic special called “Six Degrees Could Change the World” and I am finding it impossible to focus on an Andrew Harvey book about Christ. The idea of the infinite love of God is tough to focus on when a voice is saying that “a change of just one degree could change American cattle country into a wasteland swallowed by drought.” I have never heard Alec Baldwin sound so terrifying – he’s the narrator of this scary little story I find impossible to ignore.

Instead of listening to the proof of “the dangers posed by global warming,” the litany of awe-inspiring changes that could occur with each degree increase in the global temperature I am writing this and trying unsuccessfully to keep my own fears at bay. It’s cable, so I know that this program will be repeated again and again, so later I can catch those details about how many thousands (was it 500,000?) of species that could be lost if one coral reef died so I can rattle off some statistics next time someone speaks dismissively about climate change. For now, I will watch and worry and wonder how on earth I can stop another polar bear from drowning and whether I will bring my grandchildren to my favorite Cape Cod beach someday.

Is this show going to give us any answers beyond reminding us to recycle and walk more and buy a hybrid (or wait, maybe you shouldn’t since there are so many resources already tied up in your current gas guzzler that putting yet another car on the road just makes it all worse)? I’ll keep watching and let you know.

At the very least, I think I can answer the question that Andrew Harvey posits at so many of his lectures “If you wake up at three o’clock in the morning and look at all of the injustices of the world, what is it that breaks your heart and forces you to action?” I cannot pretend anymore that someone else is going to take care of the corners of this earth that I love; I cannot withdraw into the fear that the science is too contradictory for a mere mortal to understand. The disappearing Arctic ice is my heartbreak; the rising seas will not recede into the neglected background of my modern life.

Challenging the Politcs of Fear

Earth ReflectionDriving home from work last night listening to NPR, as usual, I was left slack-jawed and muttering to myself at two stories presented back-to-back on All Things Considered: one on the plan to “map” Los Angeles’s Muslim community and the other about Italy’s expulsion of immigrants in response to the murder of a naval officer’s wife allegedly beaten to death by a Romanian immigrant. I can only hope that NPR realized the horrific juxtaposition of these stories that reeked of racism and xenophobia and intended to stir a bit of outrage. But perhaps they were just reporting the “news”…

L.A.’s deputy police chief Michael Downing said their new program is intended to identify the 500,000-700,000 Muslims in the city and determine the “trust level” so the department could serve these communities better. Of course, we are not meant to believe in this altruistic pitch, precisely because he went on to say that they were seeking groups who were “susceptible to violent ideologically based extremism.” Now, in no way am I advocating that we turn a blind eye to violent extremism or pretend that it does not exist, because surely it does, but what do we gain by singling out over half a million people for closer examination because of their faith, because of their coreligionists’ behavior? But it’s not racial profiling, he said, of course not.

In Italy, an emergency decree permits local police officials to expel EU citizens with criminal records if they are deemed dangerous to public safety. Of particular focus are the Romani people, the “gypsies,” who are criticized for being “unable to integrate into [Italian] society.” I always love how only “criminals” are accused of an inability to integrate with society; isn’t the history of the western world based on trampling indigenous culture? Neither Europeans nor Americans have ever been skilled at honoring “when in Rome…”

Certainly NPR could not do full justice to these stories in under five minutes each and I do not claim to grasp all of the mitigating factors that informed these law enforcement decisions, but it is the spirit of distrust and the politics of fear that reign across the globe that really terrifies me. I do realize that bad things happen in the world, and that that judging people by their religion and homeland is as old as these concepts themselves, and that a thug is a thug, and a terrorist a terrorist. I also realize I have the luxury of declaring such approaches to public safety preposterous (which public, by the way?). It belies the fact that my cocoon of American middle class privilege has never really been shaken. But how can we move forward as a global society when we make decisions based on suspicion and hatred?

If I am to believe that the only answer is love and the pursuit of understanding and unity, which I do, then I am obligated to rail against the way governments exploit and capitalize upon fear. A fearful citizenry is robbed of its ability to ask critical questions and loses aspects of its humanity when everyone and everything is seen through a veil of anxiety. It is not impractical or naive to believe that there is a better way, it’s just much more difficult and takes the responsibility of salvation out of the hands of the Michael Downings of the world and places it squarely in ours. We only resist a culture of fear by challenging it within ourselves.