Friday, February 22, 2013

tonic wild, part 1

I hunger for wild places. I long to be swallowed up by woods, prairies or mountain ranges. I need to walk where there aren’t necessarily clear paths. I want to be where I can’t hear cars or trains in the distance, where wi-fi isn’t meters away, where alternately silence and animals deafen. I hunger for wild places in the same way I need gloves in the winter or food in my belly. I do not understand this hunger, like claustrophobia if too long unmet.

And it goes unmet often for long periods because although I am much outside, I am still confined by what has become the natural habitat of our species: steel, pavement, streetlights, architecture and enterprise. I need to be away from neatly laid out blocks, away from codified grids superimposed on all manner of topography, away from gratuitous pockets of tamed and manicured nature, away from what Barbara Kingsolver calls the hominid agenda.

But when we visit the ocean, it is my agenda to swim to the buoys. Used to laps in a pool, it is thrilling to swim in salt water and match my stroke to waves. I feel victorious when breathless I reach the buoys. Treading water, I turn to face the shore and it’s with great satisfaction I note how far people are. Then I turn to the horizon.

It is unsettling to say the least.

Besides the buoys, I am the only thing bobbing in the water as far as I can see. An occasional seagull lights on a buoy and cocks its head in my direction. I want to enjoy the moment, the sound of water, light breeze. But I have a monkey mind that plays scary movie scenes featuring water. I imagine sinister creatures snaking around in unseen depths below me. I wonder if I’ll have a stroke or a heart attack and that distant shore I was so proud of is too far. No one will be able to reach me in time to save my life. I feel afraid. And small, suddenly humbled and vulnerable in ways I wasn’t just moments ago.

And yet I hold myself here. Like a yoga pose that in its discomfort awakens my body, this experience pries the lid off my soul, rousing feelings I do not like or want.

All my busyness, accomplishments, failures, ambitions, fears, joys; all that make up my life crumble away. How inconsequential I am in this vastness squashes down on me. Why remain in this frightening discomfort? Why hunger for wildness if it triggers awareness of my nothingness? Why not keep my gaze to the shore rather than the horizon?

Friday, February 1, 2013

mercy, mercy me*

A pastor explained how the Good Samaritan was merciful. Mercy, he pointed out, is inconveniencing ourselves for others, choosing adversity to lighten another’s load. The Good Samaritan sacrificed his own personal comfort to help the man who was robbed and left for dead.  

The Good Samaritan story is prompted by the question, who is my neighbor. The neighbor it turns out, is a stranger. That means the Good Samaritan was moved by mercy to dismount his horse, disrupt the trajectory of his day, attend to the beaten man’s wounds, haul him somewhere then secure convalescence using his own money—all for someone he didn’t even know.

Naturally, this got me thinking about the environment. I started caring about environmental issues because I began to see how my consumer and energy choices impacted others. Earth is a closed system; everything I consume and discard originates somewhere and ends up somewhere impacting someone, now and in the future. Neighbor or stranger, human or non, doesn’t matter. To be merciful means I consider this in my daily life.

For example, I have a gas stove and dryer. I know that fracking, with its horrible environmental and health ramifications, provides me with natural gas. But I have to cook. So when I do, I aspire to cook as efficiently as possible using my oven and stovetop for several things at once. As for the gas dryer, I only use it for pillows and comforters. Otherwise I line dry. All of this takes patience and planning, neither of which I’m good at. Some days it’s a tedious time suck; I have three kids. But what is the alternative? To sentence people who live in areas where fracking takes place to more chemical exposure and ruined water supplies because it’s sometimes boring to hang laundry or too hard to plan ahead?

It’s also why I aspire to buy organic, local and seasonal food. Not only are the chemicals used in corporate farming toxic to me and mine, what about migrant farm workers who are exposed all day every day? You think they’re covered by BCBS? It’s financially difficult to buy organic and or support local farmers. But it’s not as difficult as cancer, developmental and congenital abnormalities and respiratory illnesses.

On the surface line drying clothes doesn’t seem the same as binding someone’s wounds. But these are actions I can take; small acts of mercy. Daily.

I can seek petitions to remind politicians that they serve people, not chemical, coal or oil companies.  

I can pick up plastic and Styrofoam litter so that it doesn’t end up in the stomach of birds and other critters mistaking it for food.

I can buy used clothing so that I support local charities and lessen the toxic output of the clothing industry by at least 5 people.

I can make my own cleaning products so that I’m not putting toxins into the water we all share.

I can reduce my reliance on paper products because deforestation is disastrous to all species. 

The call to mercy cannot be trumped by my addiction to comfort and convenience. It insists on my involvement, no matter how difficult, no matter for whom. Mercy is the heart of environmentalism.

It's being neighborly.