Even as I focus on play, rest and kindness, other things vie for my attention. Some are just pesky flies I can bat away and forget about. But other things sit on the edges of my awareness in the midst of a silly string extravaganza because they’re a part of who I am. My deepest sorrows are there and they need their time too. If I try to dismiss them my play and rest turn into escapism, my kindnesses to myself and others turn into distractions and excuses. So sometimes I need to sit awhile with the memories of my daughter. And there’s the time and attention I need to give to what’s happening to our planet. It’s easy to go to far the other way. To let the sorrow and grief I feel for what we’ve lost become the center of my days, to get caught up in the enormity of our problems and find myself angry and exhausted. I’m always dancing in the continuum between the two.
Because I call the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and New Orléans home, the devastation Katrina left behind, and now the horrors of the BP oil spill, have intensified my feelings of sorrow and helplessness. Both rooted in human negligence and lack of foresight. My heart aches. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it all.
But tonight I don’t feel overwhelmed. I feel thoughtful. I’m aware of how important it is for me to take care with the words I use, or with my tendency to label and separate the parts of a whole situation.
I agree with the editors of Orion Magazine when they say: “It’s easy to call … the oil spill an ‘environmental disaster,’ the loss of jobs an ‘economic disaster’ and the eleven men who died when the rig exploded ‘a human tragedy.’ In truth, these are not different things, they are parts of a single reality our culture has created for itself.’
Yes. A single reality. None of the problems we face in our day-to-day lives or in our global life are isolated. Our mindsets and perspectives color all our decisions. The actions that come out of those decisions affect everything – our solutions need to be holistic. Safer rigs don’t address the problem of needing oil rigs at all. Economic stimulus that doesn’t address the harm to the environment and to the life (including humans) that depends on it is beyond irresponsible. Working to clean up the oil spill without learning the lessons this disaster brings – unconscionable. Yet that’s been the pattern repeated over and over again.
The horror in the Gulf is a microcosm of the situation the whole planet faces. Science has long since moved on from the days of single cause = single effect. It realizes the interconnectivity of every part of this planet, from the human to the soil beneath our feet. There is nothing we do that doesn’t have an effect on the whole. That’s a tremendous responsibility to embrace. It can feel uncomfortable and difficult to own. But it is reality. We are responsible for being thoughtful about our life here. I am responsible.
I’m responsible for the language I use to express my thoughts and feelings about it all. An essay by Stephanie McMillan is entitled “Artists: Raise Your Weapons.” She writes about how artists can bring about change through “cultural weapons of resistance.” I agree artists of all types can bring about change, but the idea of art as a weapon makes me cringe. Makes my chest feel tight with a mixture of anger and fear. It makes me think of being in a constant emotional upheaval of aggressive thoughts and actions. I can’t. I won’t.
Sure, there’s lots to be angry about. I’m not talking about annihilating my anger – that’s just another “war” that leaves me wounded. Anger serves as a red flag that there’s something to pay attention to, that there’s something happening that shouldn’t be. And then it’s time to decide not only how to act, but from what place within myself to act from.
I can make changes in my own life. I can give my time, talent and treasure to support solutions, movements, research. I can be assertive and strong when I need to be. I can do all of that and stand rooted in love, hope, and peace. I know those words have been sentimentalized to the point that many of us roll our eyes when we hear them. Nonetheless, they are real, they are powerful and I choose them over fighting a war against anything or anyone. I have my moments when anger gets the best of me and I act from a place of resentment and fear. I don’t like the aftermath. Those moments are getting further and further apart as I learn to be mindful about my choices.
And then I don’t forget that there’s time for play and rest, for kindness and dreaming and for all those things that make my heart sing. They are a necessary part of the whole. If everything we do affects the whole, spreading kindness and laughter is an essential and radical act!
Lorna Koestner said it well in her letter to Orion Magazine: “by rediscovering ourselves, our own souls, we are likely to produce radically different results in our lives on this planet.”
So while I’m making room for all the aspects of my life, I want to step back long enough to see the patterns I’m weaving. See where I need to do some mending, admire the gorgeous rows of daisy chains and unravel the parts that are out of harmony to reweave something that supports the whole.