Keep On Keeping On
For the last 60 days, I have felt a heaviness in my chest that has weighed down my usual optimism and zest for life. I feel so helpless as I watch the millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf.
I have asthma and know what it feels like to have my lungs fill with a thick substance, causing my airways to swell, depriving my body of oxygen. So when I read that in addition to the oil and toxic dispersants in the Gulf, there are also deep sea oil plumes are causing a dangerous drop in oxygen creating a ‘dead zone’ where animals suffocate and die, I acutely feel their fear and pain.
This tightness in my chest is exacerbated by my sense of culpability. I am part of a society that is completely dependent on oil and other fossil fuels. This is going to be part of my legacy. We have collectively allowed this to happen under our watch. The devastation has taken the fight out of me. The closest I came to anger was when I learned on The Daily Show that “BP has committed 760 willful egregious safety violations,” compared to other oil companies who had 8 or less violations during the same period of time. But the anger mostly gave way to incredulousness, and I continued to feel like a paralyzed bystander, witnessing a horrific accident, but unable to stop it or do anything to help.
While the fight has gone out of me the love has not, and whether it was by instinct, or inability to do anything else, I knew that I needed to slow down and connect with the things that I love in order to keep myself from falling over the precipice into hopelessness and cynicism. So, over the last 60 days, instead of obsessing over my inbox, attending green events, brainstorming about the next marketing campaign or how to educate people about sustainability, I let myself just be. I fully enjoyed my children’s performances and all their end of school year events. I ran barefoot along Coronado beach, apologizing and sending love the entire time to the welcoming sea. I hiked amongst waterfalls and ancient trees at Enota in the North Georgia Mountains. I enjoyed visiting with family in Boston. I helped to lead a Medicine Wheel Ceremony in a beautiful community. I volunteered at a Girl Scout day camp with my children and was inspired by the great women and girls and the bonds we made in just a weeks’ time. I attended a neighborhood book club at a new restaurant in town and am already on my second novel of the summer. I delight in summer’s gifts: fireflies, gardenia and hydrangeas, peaches with honey and mint, the bounty of fresh, organic produce from my CSA. And I revel in the challenge of figuring out how to entice my children to eat purple broccoli.
The heaviness in my chest has not disappeared, but this retreat has given me the reserves to keep putting one foot in front of the other and work towards a future where we recognize our interconnectedness with all living things, and our compassionate and reverent actions toward each other and the world reflect this wisdom.
This recipe for perseverance was also given by Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times, on the May 01, 2010 Sierra Club Radio podcast.
He says “You can’t always tell the outcome. Sometimes you see it looking back, sometimes you don’t. If we get involved it doesn’t have to be grim work (e.g. this is so awful, the world is a disaster, we are destroying the planet day by day). If that is all that we can see we are probably not going to be able to keep on. You want to have the spirit of veteran environmentalist Hazel Wolf.”
“You can’t solve all of the world’s problems,” environmental activist Hazel Wolf reminded me on the eve of her hundredth birthday. “You can take one project at a time, and then another. You can do that your entire life. But you have to guard against taking on more than you can do and burning out with frustration. (p. 289). You hike, run a river, or watch birds in a park. With all these things to observe, there’s less room for worry. Your mind gets a rest. You come back ready to take on Exxon.” (p.314) (Or BP in our case).
Loeb continues, “I think that is the critical element in keeping on, whether it is hiking, kayaking, dancing, making good food, whatever it is, you want to be able to recognize this as a process of delight.”
How do you keep on keeping on?
Lovely essay, Beth. You are a great soul lighting the way!
If we don’t stop distroying the enviorment and animals we won’t have any concerns because we won’t be here. Instead of continuing to drill they should spend that money on other ways to obtain energy, like more solar engery.
Beautifully said! I’m so glad you ended it on such a positive, and doable note! I’m ‘keeping on’ by holding that part of our globe in prayerful thoughts and reveling in it’s beauty every chance I get!