As we slip closer to becoming the dystopian world we used to chuckle over while reading the fantastical novels of our youth, I now wonder about ever leaving the house. Even then paranoia creeps in while watching/listening/reading the news. It’s melting ice caps and fire storms. It’s waring tweets from men plenty old enough to know not to taunt but daily they do. There’s corruption in Facebook, phone apps listening, and Amazon with one-day deliveries causing insurmountable mountains of cardboard. Gun violence passing epidemic proportions that not even George Orwell would have imagined. Rational stuff gone daft too, like the inability to debate issues in Congress or use Science as a base for fact. Everyone is distrustful of any branch of government. People are retreating, especially the L.G.B.T., unsure if our marriages or jobs or civil rights will stand this latest round of Supreme Court discussions.
“My message is that we’ll be watching you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
18 years ago this date became etched in something stronger than stone. In blood and horror, in loss and destruction, in fear and retaliation. But something brighter too. I would venture to say there is a tenacious streak, a solve it any way possible bit, that place where survival for all takes over and lending hands come from every direction while individual needs take a back seat. It pulls together unlikely alliances during the worst of times to change the tragic trajectory. This is what we understand to be wholly American. From our small towns to urban neighborhoods you can feel the ripple reshaping torn communities into something unified, something that makes us proud.
There are always days which stay with you long after a season has been folded and packed away. Moments when you felt joy or purpose or transcendence or connection, when nothing stood in your way, blocked your view, held you back or caused doubt or fear to creep in. Summer, for me, allowed for a multitude of such glimpses into splendor. Perhaps you are nodding in agreement because of your freedom days: vacation time to dive in, soar above, or just sway on a porch swing. However you got there, I do hope you felt the divine. Sweet euphoria. And perhaps have garnered a few lessons of your own to remember when the cold wind strikes. Here are mine.
All over my town kids are filing along side-walks, waiting for the school bus or walking to school. Rush hour starts up before it did a few weeks ago, and every one is on the go. I too am up and out far earlier than just a week ago, ready to meet and greet my almost 90 students. New sneakers and brightly colored garb and all the rest adorn the pre-K through 12 as they stroll about the hallways. But what about all those who are lost in-transition– between foster families– or disputing parents– or living in families who find the back to school basics too much for their budget? For those unable to purchase the items on the must-have-list, these first days are another struggle kids face as they walk into the classroom. Hey, why not consider helping? If you are no longer outfitting your own kids for school, hitting up the local supply store might be a fun trip down memory lane, giving you the opportunity to pick out pencil cases, spiral notebooks, bright highlighters, and all the rest students need. Create your own must haves for someone who can’t.
At my school, a backpack drive came together to support kids who come to school without the necessaries. A quick call to your local public school guidance office might help you locate a group that is doing the same in your neighborhood, and just like that you can make a huge impact. We popped in to the shop last Saturday and grabbed pencils and markers and highlighters and notebooks, and then added a water bottle and a smaller pouch to store valuables that could be easily accessed and removed. We made sure both backpacks were sturdy, and luckily found a store that offered an additional discount when we told them we were donating. The discussion at the cash register spurred a whole line of folks to do the same, and in just a few minutes everyone was discussing how they might help the kids who really need some help. Like wild fire the contagion of support spreads and before you know it every kid in town has the same advantages.
During this hectic time, it is easy to fixate on our own needs, to dial into our own isolated demands, but I dare you to stretch beyond your own boundaries. Remember this next generation are dealing with so much, from the front lines of targeted school violence to an uncertain environmental future, inheriting a whole planet of catastrophic issues to reconcile. They need to be focused and better educated than we ever imagined necessary. They need to problem solve all that we have laid on them, and they need the tools to do so. Let’s all do what we can to lend a helping hand for those who are our future. #backtoschool2019 #payitforward
Week after week I have posted about yet another swim. I know. And I’m so sorry. It’s just like this crazy fixation for me. Actually it’s not that, swimming is my lifeline, a means to finding a way through when there doesn’t seem to be another way. In summer all possible watering holes are endless possibilities for joy. I seek out mountain streams that burst over waterfalls, misty lakes where loons call back and forth to each other, the big beachy Pacific or the stoney Atlantic and the occasional outdoor pool to dive in and float under the heavens. But you all know that. It is the same story every August. Me writing about going as far as a dare and then going a bit further.
The reality is I am a playful swimmer, I mean sure come November I’ll be in the indoor pool doing the back and forth lap thing, but even then I find myself breaking up the routine by watching the light skip across the surface. All summer long I just play in the water. While on a ferry recently we saw a school of dolphins playing in the wake, jumping high up over the waves and diving back under, all in unison, right as the sun sank into the horizon turning the sky lilac and tangerine. My buddies for sure. How lucky that we still have miles of water just for our pleasure?
Water rules me, and even though I reside in a land-locked state, there are rivers at every turn, as well as quiet paths to stroll along side. On days when a swim isn’t possible, hearing water run shallow over rock while shimmering in the late afternoon sunshine can elevate my mood pretty gosh darn well. I am so grateful for this magnificent world. For all this clean air and water.
This just might be the time when we all do whatever it is we can to keep it as pristine as we can. That will take a few adjustments for most people on our planet. The United States may not be the #1 country responsible for creating the Earth’s destructive and devastating pollution (China wins that award), however, we are #2. Imagine that? For a country that prides itself on grass-root, small-town, community-caring, we certainly are making a catastrophic mess of this one planet we need to keep inhabiting. Can we each make a change? Depending on our current lifestyles, perhaps a few small steps might be possible for all of us?
Going zero waste is a great step towards combating climate change. Practicing the 5 R’s of zero waste can help.
You’ve probably heard of the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But there are two more that are equally important.
Lets break it down:
- Refuse – Avoid single use plastics and paper products by saying no thank you, opting for reusables.
- Reduce – Downsize what you purchase, opting to be more mindful of what you really need.
- Reuse – Always find a way to keep an item out of the landfill by keeping it in great condition, repairing or upcycling it when it breaks.
- Rot – Set up a compost system for your food scraps, or find a food scrap drop off center (like a farmers market, or community garden) near your house.
- Recycle – Properly recycle any plastic, paper, glass or metal that comes into your life you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse by researching your state’s recycling laws.
If you ask me, all this glorious swimming and strolling under a big blue sky is worth our efforts.
While most Americans are reeling in disbelief over the most recent mass shootings, I can only wonder how these senseless murders will ever end. “A trio of new reports by the Small Arms Survey finds that 85% of the world’s one billion guns are in the hands of its citizens who far outgun the militaries and police responsible for their protection” (Big Think, Berman). I just want to hear everyone say it: guns are the problem. Loudly. Anyone who thinks they’re not has forgotten the world before Columbine, before April 20, 1999, when two boys killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide, and even thought that horrific event became a tipping point in our country, “The Columbine shooting was, at the time, the worst high school shooting in U.S. history and prompted a national debate on gun control and school safety” that conversation has stalled time and time again, year after year, mass shooting after mass shooting, stalled to a faint whisper while politicians send good thoughts (History). Can we remember when Congress took the lead to solving this gun violence epidemic? Not even after Sandy Hook when 20 children between six and seven years old were gunned down by a white American male did they do anything. As in nothing. Not even then.
Flying from east to west over this mighty landmass reveals how expansive and diverse our country is, with all the complexity that mountain chains and sandy deserts and bustling metropolises add to our rainbow lifestyles. Down here, we are all in our own here. Doing our own thing. Working and paying bills. Mothering and fathering and building community in whatever community we find for ourselves. We dream of climbing higher or soaring longer or diving deeper while we commute to our day in and day out jobs. We frequent the same markets and barbers and stadiums and bars and churches and schools and beaches while we live out all the days in all our years.
Only now we are frightened because we might die in any one of those places. Because we are not straight or not white or actually nowadays for any reason whatsoever. Die by an American male with a gun. A gun that has the capacity to kill the most people with the smallest effort. So, now what? Are we helpless to stop this? Yeah in my mind, we are. These white males in their 20’s are so firmly indoctrinated in hate it is difficult to imagine pulling them back to a civil reality.
Maybe they would have just been labeled assholes a few decades ago, spouting off at the family barbecue about their latest beef with someone, but now they can creep into the dark web, or even hit up the 8chan message boards right in the light, and suddenly, these former assholes become sufficiently empowered to carry out their evil manifestos. Allow for easy access to military style weapons and you have a home-grown terrorist in your backyard. Your basement. Your mall. Your America. Take a look down from 35,000. Can you spot the guy with the arsenal to kill more of us? They are here. Residing among us. Proceeding with a rising trajectory that should alarm everyone of us, yet, those alarm bells are being silenced.
I want to believe that we can turn the gun violence epidemic around. That people will say, yes, it is the guns that are killing us. That we, in our respective communities declare collectively that we have had enough, that no amount of weapontry in the hands of civilians will prevent another disgruntled asshole from gunning us down, that we decide instead to recreate this land of the free without guns but with safety for citizens. I can hardly even write these words, for they are so naive, even outlandish.
While we might have had the nerve to tell that one asshole at the barbecue to pipe down when he started with his racist rant, those guys just banded together and elected Trump. They fiddled with the voting act and manipulated districts to flood Washington with complicit politicians beholden to special interests, from the NRA to pharmaceutical and insurance companies pouring billions of dollars into said pockets, so that you and I don’t stand a chance to change any of that hate. Our kids might, if they still have an earth to inhabit. Oh man, this is a dismal view, one that could use a ray of hope if only we had leadership that espoused inspiration instead of division. If only…
This week, I’m getting lost with the ghosts. Those who marched arm in arm between walls of hate speech and absolute peril, yet did so regardless. Those who fill my memory as I try to untangle the horrific news of more mass murders. What would they make of our united states now? What would they demand from our impotent politicians? How would they right this stalled course?
It is too easy to blame, to name call, to call out. Easy because there is blame to be made. Instead, I say we echo the words crying out from from Ohio and Texas, that collectively we do something. We fucking do something.