I really do believe that we can all become better than we are…
I know we can.
The opening quote is from James Baldwin…surprising isn’t it that a person so committed to telling the truth in all its horror and pain was able to say this. But he continues:
But the price is enormous and people are not yet willing to pay it.
This is still where we are. We are not willing to own up to our mistakes…to commit to being better. It is too hard. I had a discussion this week with some of my clients about hope. So many people tell me they have lost hope. I became curious about this and asked them in what area of their lives they still have hope. Some have none. They calmly tell me that they have no hope for themselves or the future. This was disheartening to me, but the more I thought about it, the more I could relate to it. Can we become better? I must believe this to some extent, otherwise I might have chosen a different profession…or just settled down into retirement. But Baldwin was right…this is an extremely difficult task…to work for change. But some are committed to it. One such person is Vahid Razavi, who forwarded to me a YouTube recording of an online seminar in which he participated entitled, Countering Discrimination and Intimidation in Peace and Disarmament: Supporting Advocates for Palestine. In this seminar, there was a quote by a Palestinian professor, Refaat Alareer who was killed in an Israeli airstrike. It brings the idea of hope to another, more specific dimension.
If I must die, you must live to tell my story, to sell my things, to buy a piece of cloth and some strings. Make it white with a long tail so that a child somewhere in Gaza while looking heaven in the eye, awaiting his dad who left in a blaze and bid no one farewell, not even to his flesh, not even to himself. Sees a kite, my kite you made flying up above and thinks for a moment an angel is there, bringing back love. If I must die, let it bring hope. Let it be a tale.
A tale…a story that can bring back love…now that is hope…in a time of horrendous despair, there is hope. This is, I think, what was meant by the writer of the book of Job…
For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its tender shoots will not cease.
We can see this all around us, although we have pushed the boundaries of this hope…we have taken the hope of the tree for granted. Does there come a time when this hope, in the words of James Weldon Johnson, unborn has died?
I have been reading the book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I have told some of you how nurturing and healing this book has become to me…how reading each chapter describing the growing patterns of plants, fungi and mosses has accompanied my days, providing solace and sustenance in a time of growing despair…despair about our lives, our children’s lives, the life of the world, our species, the planet. I was taking my time reading it, because I needed its comfort and its wisdom. That is until I turned the page to the last section entitled, "Burning Sweetgrass." Some of you may have actually burned sweetgrass, and if you have you know the sweet, gentle, harmonizing feel of it. Kimmerer describes it this way,
A sweetgrass braid is burned to create a ceremonial smudge that washes the recipient in kindness and compassion to heal the body and the spirit.
Reading this filled me with hope that the next chapters would continue to nourish my soul. I was in for a surprise! The calming, nurturing feel of the book began to take a turn. She began to tell the story of Onondaga Lake in Upstate New York. Now some of you know that this where I am from…where generations of my ancestors were born and raised, lived and died. Now this story was not really new for me. After all, I studied environmental science at a college not very far from Onondaga Lake in the Adirondack mountains of New York State. But it was a story that I was not prepared to engage with, after having been lulled into a sense of security by the previous chapters of the book. It killed that vision of the tree, the grasses, the mosses and fungi, left to their own devices…growing naturally in natural settings. It forced me to face the reality of what we have done to these precious beings and the devasting results. Kimmerer writes about a visit to the lake…a superfund site located on the sacred site of the Onondaga people, the central fire of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.
It is at this site that the Great Tree of Peace stood, on the shores of Onondaga Lake. Of the place where this tree stood, Kimmerer writes:
The land where…the Tree of Life stood isn’t land at all, but beds of industrial waste sixty feet deep. It sticks to shoes like thick white school paste used in kindergartens to glue cutout birds onto construction-paper trees. There aren’t too many birds here, and the Tree of Peace is buried.
The Native claim to these lands included the plan to restore them. They wrote:
The Onondaga people wish to bring about a healing between themselves and all others who live in this region that has been the homeland of the Onondaga Nation since the dawn of time.
The Native urge to become involved in the healing of their ancestral land sits in stark contrast to the behavior of our industrialized society and indeed our tendency to look away from this reality…the reality that we can become better…that there is hope that the lands and our relationship with the lands can be restored. But their case was dismissed. A profound injustice to the indigenous population, those who currently inhabit the land, and to the land itself.
Still, despite this injustice, despite the reluctance of people to pay the price, restoration has begun. The Onondaga people continue to speak the truth that until we have a relationship with the land, we will not be committed to protecting it…we will not be willing to pay the enormous price restoration will demand.
And this is only one example of restoration. We are in dire need of restoration of natural habitats based on the sound principles of nature herself. E.O. Wilson wrote of this restoration:
There can be no purpose more inspiring than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us.
This is the hope! That we reweave the wondrous diversity, not only of our natural environments, but of our human ones as well. This is the underlying hope that must be nurtured in all of us…the hope that through our diverse natures…both human and more-than-human we will be able to commit to a future that is indeed more wonderful than our past…a future where we are willing to pay the price of the ticket…the ticket we received when we were born….to be continued.