“It feels like a slow apocalypse.”
My 19-year-old daughter, on a short trip home from college for Thanksgiving, put words to the lurking cloud that had not yet fully shaped, much less been acknowledged and named, in my brain. I’d not yet come across this term used in dystopian theory, but it certainly resonated. Devastating fires, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, extreme political divides, increasing mass shootings, no end to police killing unarmed black men, impoverished and desperate families seeking asylum at the border being turned away/gassed, brutal wars and genocides in foreign lands, traumatized children in our schools; the hits seem to come weekly, if not daily. And the mother of it all, for me: the alarming rate of polar ice melting, extinction of species, extreme weather, and the fact that it’s going to take urgent, global action to try to slow down the tremendous momentum of climate change.
Is this level of foreboding temporary, or is it the new baseline for our existence? And how do we cope?
Do we lie down in a pub, pull a paper bag over our heads, and quietly await the end? The folks in that scene of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were sheep, and completely unrelatable when faced with the pending destruction of their planet. But do we push the weight of these tragedies and overwhelming state of our planet out of heads and watch Netflix, or lose ourselves in the near pointless parade of social media vines and images? Perhaps we are not so different as I imagine; perhaps it’s just that the timeline for us is slower.
I’ve not yet let myself say this publicly before, but I wonder if I were of typical childbearing age, how would I feel about consciously bringing a soul into this world at this moment in our planet’s history. I wonder how my children will feel about it when they reach an age in which they may or may not choose to become parents: a birthright so unjust to compromise. If only we could embrace Iroquois’ Seventh Generation principal; that every decision should be shaped by considering its impact on not just our generation, but seven. We can barely see beyond one.
There are people on the front lines, fighting for environmental regulations, for sustainability, for a more just society. But is this enough to slow down this massive train weighted with decades of neglect and apathy? How many of us must get off the ease of the ride and join them on the tracks, digging in to push back against the momentum? And how do you mobilize an army of complacents, climate-change deniers, and those of us who feel the issues are so overwhelming we don’t know where to begin?
Perhaps my children’s generation has the answer, and the energy and vision to motivate their parents’ generation to action, and make lasting change. And perhaps it will take all of us spread out in the trenches or bringing up the flanks of the causes that call most strongly to our hearts, knowing no one can carry the weight of all of these, but that shouldering one might not break our backs.
While we live with the diseases we and our predecessors have brought upon ourselves, and with the hope they may not be terminal, I will strive to find beauty in the simple and the sacred. It is the gift of living when you or a loved one is faced with imminent or possible death; everyday moments can be intensified with a deep sense of gratitude and heightened awareness of the beauty they offer. The sunlight illuminating blades of grass is everything, in the moment.
This is not the kind of escape that dulls the senses and leaves one feeling hollow. It is the kind that feeds the soul, that recharges us and blurs the background if only for a moment so we can exist in that pure beauty and joy. Fed by these transient gifts, and with the hope that they will always be found if consciously sought, we carry on.