Still thinking about Earth Day.
I read an interesting blog post – and an interesting comment there about how humans cooperating with one another is the key to the success of our species.
I’ve been thinking. What is the measure of success here? That we’ve overpopulated the earth? Overwhelmed other species? Poisoned our own homes? Occasionally wiped out huge swathes of our fellow humans in the name of “good”?
And what is the time frame here? Will we be as successful as the horseshoe crab? The jellyfish? It longevity a criteria? Is it to literally be the last man standing when we’ve eviscerated the earth entirely to make plastic toys? When the world is quiet but for our own voices?
It’s overwhelming to contemplate. We’re too close, too small and too temporary to take it all in with any sense of context and proportion. I actually had a better sense of this as child, when I wondered where the trash went, what happens when the dead are all buried in their pretty, sealed coffins and there’s no more land. At one point I stopped wondering.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think children are wise. I do think they ask the questions we learn to choose to ignore in order to get along: to cooperate. Maybe that is the arc of wisdom – the innocent questions, the learned norms, then questioning those norms once all the ducks are in a row and you have the freedom to do so? Wisdom could be circling back to the questions with the experience to understand how they fit/don’t fit with cultural stories and a culture’s silence?
Most of us adults are not wise either. And most of us don’t have the privilege to think too hard about these things, and stay functional.
I saw a video once about a woman whose trash from one year barely filled single mason jar. She had a lot of good ideas for cutting down on waste, but (forgive me), I am wondering where she gets packages of toilet paper that isn’t wrapped in plastic?
Most of my waste from a year is from food packaging (and with the exception of curry pastes, I don’t eat processed foods). She shops at stores where it is possible to bring your own packaging. I know of two stores in my region that have produce I can buy and put in my own bags. But I would have to drive the car a half an hour each way to shop there. I don’t know how to do the math to figure out which is better for the planet.
I wonder about the energy involved in the server she is storing that video on. About the server storing this – and all my other online activities – that are basically about: See me. Let me in. Community – cooperation.
Environmentalist’s Overwhelm is a thing for sure. When a kid tugs at our hand with a question, the answer is: “Oh, it’s complicated. Let’s go get an ice cream.” I know when I start to question, I often have a glass of wine and watch a soap to distract myself from the guilt. And hopelessness.
About a decade ago I did learn what happens when the cemeteries fill up. I was living a couple of blocks from a nice one in downtown Stavanger. There is a small fenced in area with the graves of the British fighter pilots who died in a crash here during WWII. I don’t know their names.
There are some old graves with big monuments that beg for rubbings. But one afternoon I stumbled on a backhoe and a pile of broken headstones. I checked the dates and they were from the 70s and 80s.
I don’t have extended family, so these kinds of details of normal life are mysteries to me. I didn’t know (E. has since told me) that families have to pay to keep the site after a certain number of years. His father died in the 80s and already the family pays a yearly rent on the space.
We go a couple of times a year to his father’s grave and leave candles. On Christmas we take a couple of dozen candles and light up the all the dark graves in that section of the cemetery. I love graveyards. I see the graves as proof of human empathy. We will all die despite our efforts for immortality, so I think we comfort ourselves for our loss and for our own “I remember them, and someone will remember me”. We do this for each other and for ourselves. We do it for loved ones and for strangers. But even the greatest mausoleums crumble in anonymity. The graveyards in London and Paris are filled with huge monuments that are anonymous now. But someone cared. Someone bothered. Once upon a time.
When I had my tattoo done on my back (tattoos are forever – but that’s another story), we had long inking sessions and long talks. The artist told me about his friend whose job it was to drive that backhoe in the cemetery. About how his friend described sometimes lifting up a rib cage caught in the prongs of the machine.
I know there is research about how when too many people come together empathy is lost. I am not at all sure how this all works in the real world. There is that philosophical/ethical question – in real events not as a thought experiment: when you must choose do you save famous works of art or “insignificant” people.
I’m listening to the blackbirds outside the window. The sparrows, too. Sometimes I do think there’ll come a day when we won’t hear birds.
When there are no more fireflies in the fields of Kentucky.
What is significant?
a magpie quivers
on the sidewalk concrete
feathers blood and breath
what to do with a crushed bird?
a dime a dozen among cats