In a time of environmental crisis, how can we live right now?
That's the question posed by editor Martin Keogh in a new collection of essays, Hope Beneath Our Feet, that I've been reading, bit by bit, since I unwrapped it Christmas morning.
The book is full of beautiful, short, often meditative essays, by well known writers like Barry Lopez, Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingslover, Michael Pollan, and Vandana Shiva, and others who aren't quite household names, but have an important message to share, like my friend Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees, or fellow Vermonter (and recent candidate for governor) Susan Bartlett.
As I make my way through the essays in this book each one so far has spoken to me, offered me a little gift, an insight or a reminder of something important..
One of the themes of the essays gathered here is acceptance. The Earth is changing, by virtue of human activities. We can accept the changes, see the resilient ways in which the earth rebalances itself, and do our best to work along with that power. Opeyemi Parham puts it well in the closing words of her essay, Waking Up From Despair: "I choose to feel power in the earth as it responds and reacts to humanity's actions. I choose to take my fear and breathe it into excitement. The earth, older than I can even imagine, is reshaping itself."
Another theme is the clarity that can emerge for us in facing up to the extent of our current crisis. We are being forced to choose to recognize our interconnection and interdependence. In her essay, Do the Will of God, Come What May, Alice Walker writes that "our suffering on this small planet is about learning enjoyment. Choosing peace over pain and destruction. Growing into a
comfortable universality. Letting go of pettiness. Dissolving tribalism, nationality, speciesism."
And several of the essays remind us that nothing, including dire predictions of our failure to meet the current challenges, is certain. Historian Howard Zinn puts it particularly well in The Optimism of Uncertainty, "We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible."
I'm going to keep this book handy this year, as the kind of antidote to discouragement and cynicism and as a reminder that it's not over until it's over and that none of us are really alone in these challenging times.