Wednesday, May 12, 2010


The sun is out even though the sky is overcast. There must be a patch of blue that I can't see from my vantage point. It's that kind of partially sunny day where sun seems to be turning on a spotlight here and there. The tree on the other side of the Methodist Church across the street is all lit up. The green near the top where the thin branches grow up and out is almost fluorescent. Further down the tree, where the branches are thicker, the green gets darker. The tree is still here. Peaceful. Still, overall, the tree reaches out. And out.

The big old maple on the school property kitty-corner from me grows up and up, probably twice as tall as the other tree, probably fifty feet up, with a trunk three of us could not encircle with our arms stretched to reach one another. Its branches don't reach up or out. They are just there, a part of the tree, sustenance no doubt flowing up from the ground and down from the sky. The difference in the lighting seems to make no difference to how this tree looks. Light or dark. It is solid. It is unmoving now, but I have seen it bend a bit in heavy wind.

The rhododendron next to my window holds its blossom close and closed. Most of them are green and egg-shaped with no hint of the flower within. On some closed blossoms the egg has cracked open enough to reveal the tips of ruby-colored fingers. Within days (a week?) the flower fingers will transform into full-blown flowers, like a slow-motion trick where the magician pulls flowers out of his top hat.

In the distance, beyond the small green tree, the gorge cliffs hunker, dark and old. They never move in the wind. They wear snow storms like a blanket in the winter. In the summer they are black and green and ever-present.

All seems peaceful in my little part of the world. That is comforting. Beyond, though, I know oil is flooding into the Gulf of Mexico.

What do we do during such catastrophes?

The best strategy would be prevent them from ever happening. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about thirty years ago. He was a pacifist, and I was young. I asked him, "But what do you do about people like Hitler?" He said you prevent him from ever getting into power. I agreed that would be great, but what then?

I don't think I ever got an answer from him.

Let's just decide prevention is the best offense to any catastrophe. We could argue that they should have never put oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Or we could argue if they did put them in they should have had in place every imaginable safety device.

But they didn't.

Now what?

Oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

When this first happened, I did some long distance energy work in the Gulf of Mexico. (We can have a conversation about energy work or long distance healing work another time. What it is, whether it works, whether I'm a crackpot or a crazy person. For now, just know that I did it.) What I saw and heard was that this was big and it was awful, and I needed to go back home and take care of my own people. I heard other things, but that again is for another conversation.

I came back from my journey and asked other people what they were doing and hearing. Some people said they were sending light and Reiki, some didn't think it was a good idea to get emotionally attached, and some people were angry and in grief.

As I listened to the responses, I tried to determine what resonated with me. When the United States went to war after 9/11, I dedicated years of my life trying to do whatever I could to stop it, end it. I co-created a peace group where I live. We organized marches. I participated in other marches and demonstrations. I wrote article after article, essay after essay. I wrote to my elected officials. I donated money. I did whatever I could do.

We still went to war, and I watched as our elected officials allowed the constitution to be shredded. I watched as thousands of people died in Iraq and hardly any Americans seemed to notice or care. So many Americans walked around with their fingers in their ears going, "Lalalala."

The disengagement of people around me was astonishing. Yet even though I was engaged, I was failing. I didn't stop the war. I was glad that I wasn't silent during those years. And yet, the war continued and continues. People are still dying. The American people are still oblivious.

When Hurricane Katrina came ashore, I was at first relieved that it did not hit land as a category 5 hurricane. Later I was appalled as the levies broke and the government failed. During this time, I felt absolutely helpless. What could I do? The story of Ruby's Imagine began to unfold. During the next year, I researched and wrote Ruby's story. I thought this is what I do: I write stories. It is part of my activism. It is part of the healing.

Years have passed. The environmental degradation gets worse. More people seem disengaged. More people seem to be running, running, running.

Maybe there is wisdom in stillness.

To be grounded like that old maple. Always. Wouldn't that be something?

But back to the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. What did I think was the correct response for those of us who weren't there?

I do happen to think that sending healing energy can help a situation. There have been some studies which seem to indicate directed thought, directed intention, can make a difference. I do energy work. I've seen people healed and transformed by the work we do together. I've also put my hands on the hood of a car when it wouldn't start, and no matter how much I wanted the car to work, my hands on it was not going to do the trick.

One avenue does not lead to the truth. One path does not lead to the solution. Necessarily.

In fact, there probably isn't one solution to most problems.

One of my teachers once said, "There are some pretty dysfunctional activists out there. They need to come sit on a mountain and meditate. And all those people sitting on the mountain meditating need to get up and go out into the world."

I thought that was brilliant.

It's clear politicians cannot save us. They never could. This doesn't mean they are evil or all corrupt. They are part of the system. They need we the people to tell them what is important to us.

The capitalist system which brought us this oil flooding into the Gulf of Mexico is not going to save us. For this system, it's all about the money. The politicians and oil companies keep saying everything will be paid for. As if money is going to solve or heal this problem. No amount of money is going to make the Gulf of Mexico and environs whole again.

The only thing that will make the Gulf of Mexico whole again is us. We have to decide as a community of human beings that we include the Gulf of Mexico in our community. We have to decide that that forest over there is part of our community. We have to decide that those wolves over here are part of our family. We have to decide that our comfort and our needs do not supersede everything and everyone.

A dog eat dog world does not work. In the end, only one dog remains, and he's alone with indigestion.

Every day I hope they figure out how to stop the oil in the Gulf. Oil spewing into any body of water will kill it. If the oil spreads into the ocean, it could kill the oceans. Then we would truly understand that we are ultimately connected to everything: If the oceans die, we die.

One day last week, I was so in grief over what was happening in the Gulf and my feeling of helplessness that I curled up on the couch and could barely move most of the day. I was nearly paralyzed.

I realized this is why most people don't think about these things: They are trying to get through the day without coming to terms with the truth and becoming paralyzed.

I got up off the couch. I began researching. I decided I needed to get the skills to help people change their lives practically. I would learn how to make homes and businesses "greener," healthier, more a part of the land and the environment. We need a sea change on how we live our lives. But people are overwhelmed. They don't know what to do. I could learn to cut through the fog of information and misinformation and help design a better world. A world where we understand we are not separate from Nature. A world where we create sustainable communities. A world where each of us understands that it is our responsibility and our great honor to let our voice be heard.

It's true I've tried to live my life sustainably. I've tried creating community before. I've tried to heal and change the world with my writing. But now I hope to get more hands-on experience and skills to do the down and dirty work of creation more successfully.

This is a long way of saying that I'm going back to school for ecological design and planning. This is a long way of saying that this is what I am doing in response to the oil churning into the Gulf of Mexico.

What about you?

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