Apocalyptical scenes of floods and huge, ferocious fires dominate the news. Hundreds of square miles destroyed. Huge clouds of smoke stretch across the country. We feel hopeless, not only to control the devastation, but realizing this environmental chaos will only worsen.
Many long to return to normal, to leave this trauma behind. But those of us who live near to the land, who can feel its pulse, hear its secrets whispered in the trees, know that this is just another dream, that “normal” is now lost, a nostalgic memory. The pandemic has taught us about uncertainty, and the need to listen even more closely to the Earth, to sense her present imbalance. Despite all our computer models and plans for a future of green economic growth, we do not know where we are headed (or heading). Here on the coast there is no plan for living with the wildfires, except a prayer and a bag packed.
Meanwhile, in East Africa, the Somali pastoralists have already moved on, after watching their animals die in the years of drought. They’ve left the land they’d walked for centuries, moving into camps. They know that climate change brings hunger and migration, as they suffer the effects of our use of fossil fuels. They did not put carbon into the atmosphere. They are too poor to pollute. But they are among the first to suffer. Here our lives appear the same, food lines may grow, poverty increase, but for most of us our lives are not yet broken. But we can feel how something essential has changed, a barrier passed. Do we feel the tipping point first in our souls, before the fires and smoke turn the air red?
Will the fires and floods finally awaken us, turn our attention back to the living Earth? Or have we lost that connection, that place of belonging? How long before we are forced to wake from this nightmare of alienation? I used to imagine how Spring would come after the hard Winter of materialism, after all those years when we put profit before people, before the more-than-human world. Now, even amidst all the colors and sweetness, I know that this is not the real Spring I was waiting for, but just a moment of wonder, of magic, before the land becomes too dry. Before climate crisis creates a bleaker world. Before we too begin to be broken.Fire Season by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, syndicated from Parabola, Aug 19, 2021
But it is not hopeless.
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
It is not hopeless as long as we have the wisdom, faith, courage to face hard truths. Sadly this wisdom is difficult to find today. As long as we try to hide from hard truths, we will be living in, paralyzed by fear.
The following is from the movie After Earth.
“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”
I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.
So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”Ronnie James
Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore? That quote from my friend Ronnie James captures what Mutual Aid is about. Rejecting vertical hierarchies of control and instead embracing a flat structure where everyone has a voice. Where we are learning, together, to vanquish fear and create a new world. Becoming dragon slayers.
The following quote has captured my imagination. That dragons represent fear. Fear is what we need to slay. To practice hope is to slay the dragons, to confront fear and move beyond it.