Oprah, Apathy, Basketball and a Few Other Things.
I wasn’t super concerned about climate change a year ago.
Of course I was aware of it, but I didn’t really care. No more than I cared about getting my taxes done, the lawn mowed, going grocery shopping and certainly less than planning our next vacation and seeking personal happiness.
Humanity was going to hell in a handbasket and I felt smug about being above the madness I was resentfully participating in. I was one of those people who on a warm December day might have said, “If this is global warming, bring it on!” I assumed that humans would sort it out and eke out another couple of generations of comfort and stability. There was no reason to overreact.
There’d been doomsayers in every era, and I wasn’t one of them. And if we did theoretically wipe ourselves out? Well, good riddance. The Earth would be better off without us. Hearing that sea levels in my hometown would rise made me glad we didn’t overextend ourselves to buy waterfront property. Reading that we might be able to grow lemons in a decade was like getting a good stock tip.
As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons…
I tried to flip every piece of bad news and work it to our short-term advantage. What I couldn’t flip, I ignored. I was made of Teflon™ and filled my pot with good decisions, which in my demographic meant smart investing while giving lip service to socialism. I sought — maybe not my happy place — but a place that was insulated, a little optimistic, a lot self-interested, and mostly numb.
I wasn’t just protecting me, I was protecting my children.
By normalizing the insanity of our times, I cushioned them from harsh realities outside their control while giving them a sense of security and optimism. In other words, I gave them a life of privilege with the best of intentions. If I allowed my untended sorrow to have its way with me, I’d be on my knees and unable to take them to their basketball games.
I wasn’t always like this.
I was once a little country girl taking immense pleasure in my natural relationship to the wind, trees, caterpillars and the bees. I grew into a young woman, torn and confused by the harm caused by my North American middle-class lifestyle. I felt a deep ache from being herded into a pen disconnected from Life.
In my early twenties, I suffered a breakdown from the tension of entering an automated workforce and my growing awareness that human productivity was hurting Mother Earth and all her sweet creatures.
A very nice doctor prescribed me Prozac™ and recommended I avoid the news because I was too sensitive to process what was happening and lead a happy, productive life. Basically, I was prescribed a little blue pill and a lifetime course of Denial™. She also recommended exercise.
I became a personal trainer and cultivated a view that though there were big problems in the world, I wasn’t one of them. Nor was I a part of the solution. My task was to bide my time, enjoy my fleeting existence, and look as good as I could every minute.
No one else seemed as bothered as me. Maybe I was too sensitive. Perhaps this was just the way humans were wired to live — the natural order of things. The message was clear. If I was going to make anything of my life, I had better toughen up. And I did. I became a boxing coach. My heartache was replaced with clever ambition and cynicism.
And then I had children.
I opened and closed my heart
like a confused flower
looking for a sun
that shows up
in a different position.
My sons are now entering the world I’ve been shielding them from. In a sense, I am re-entering it with them. While I was cheering in the stands and preparing them for the best universities, thousands of species went extinct and the global surface temperature rose by almost half a degree.
According to NASA, “17 of the 18 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998.”
My children have only known the warmest years in human history. Unlike me, they won’t have the option of turning away from some of the devastating effects of climate change. As Margaret Atwood says, “It’s not Climate Change. It’s Everything Change.”
I continue to be the same committed mother I’ve always been. To serve them best now means addressing the doozy of the pickle we’re in, but
From the birds to the bees
To oceans and the trees
To the plastic and Syrian refugees
From the homeless to the howling grief
Of bombs being dropped on innocent people
To the child brides and slavery
To the cruel factory farms and rampant sexism
To the eight men who control fifty percent of everything
To the last white rhino and all the internet surveys
To desertification and bleached coral reefs
To the mass school shootings and institutionalized racism
To the snowflakes and the trolls who creep them
To a child president with one finger on the button
While his others send out weird and dangerous Tweets
To this very, very wet spring we’re having
And my own jealousies, endless comparisons
And confusion about what it means to be a
I have spent a lifetime being a
Good corporate citizen
Hoping that happiness might be found in my next spending decision
Or maybe one day, I’d be interviewed by
if she ever gets around to talking about climate change
I’m beyond overwhelmed
I’m psychically exhausted
But when I lay my head down
I think of our children and the legacy we’re leaving them
There’s a battle to fight
It’s as old as Arjuna’s,
Who thought he was fighting his cousins
And their lust for power
But was really up against
Of his own apathy and avoidance
The world had big problems
And he was not one of them
He believed he wasn’t part of the solution
And thought he could retreat and seek his own contentment
Krishna (God) told him:
When Time has forgotten that the
Law of Existence
Infuses all actions
With the least harmful intentions,
The only noble path is to
Restore this consciousness.
Which means you have to engage in battle,
Especially with your own thinking
But I am no King or Queen
I am a common woman
Who has finally dropped to
Her knees and can no longer hold the grief
Of what she is seeing and feeling
There are so many causes that seek our attention,
Status quo is harming everything
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and do nothing
But what if all of those causes are merely
Symptoms of generations who have
Forgotten the Do least harm Law of Existence?
What if the most radical and heroic act isn’t some grand gesture but a
daily aligning of our thoughts
to the noble pursuit
the least harm possible,
Not Do no harm?
I have taken myself out with extremes. A goal like that is actually meaningless.
A healthy psyche doesn’t do well in polarities,
it thrives in nuances and subtleties.
There is harm inherent to life’s continuance
and cruelty can be witnessed across all species,
but there are none who have taken it to the level that we have.
We have overshot our needs and created the sixth mass extinction.
We are all hypocrites here. We are fed, clothed, transported, and housed in pleasant conditions using methods that are destroying everything. Doing some harm is a part of living, but we are doing more than Life can possibly sustain.
We are breaking the Laws of Existence.
Don’t let the paradox of your current condition stop you from caring and making a difference. It’s okay to drive to the protest and demand your tax dollars go to less harmful solutions. It’s okay to speak out against them, even as you’re sucking on the teat of our fucked-up systems. It’s okay to start caring today even if it finds you in the middle of an ugly divorce or an unnecessary kitchen renovation.
Embrace the paradox.
These are the times we live in.
Sandy Ibrahim is a Canadian of Egyptian and German descent. She does not know if her grandmothers are cheering her on or rolling over in their graves. After leaving her childhood home at 17, she has been pursuing sovereignty while maintaining a state of reverent bewilderment. She’s spent the last two decades raising two sons, and has worked as a systems analyst, a boxing coach, and a book-marketer. You can currently find her practicing Yoga, freaking out, writing, and volunteering for TreeSisters. You could contact her via her website.