Today was the 20 year anniversary of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and Pentagon in Washington, DC. I, and many other Americans, watched and listened to the event that took place at the 9-11 memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. For several hours, pairs of people took turns to read the names of every person who was killed by the terrorist attack.
The people who read the names of the dead were all relatives of someone who died. Two by two, they stood somberly and read name after name, in alphabetical order.
Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of that fateful and tragic day. As the names of each one were read, I listened. Musicians played lovely, quiet chamber music to accompany the readings. Many emotions washed over me during the course of the memorial service. Sorrow was the keynote underlying the entire service. One by one, the readers honored the one they had personally lost. Patterns quickly emerged: father, brother, cousin, mother, sister, daughter, son. People of all ages honored their loved one, including many children and youth who never had the opportunity to know the one who died personally. And yet, each one spoke similar words of knowing them through the stories, pictures, and family ties they had for the past twenty years. Most of the readers remarked that they wished their beloved could have been alive to see their families grow and mark the milestones of their common lives—graduations, births, marriages, and other significant moments. Some readers choked up and cried as they read their memorial, feeling the loss as acutely as if time stood still. Many spoke of the pain they still felt as they remembered their beloved one every single day. And many ended with the words, we will meet again one day.
The common threads that were repeated over and over during the course of the four hour ceremony became apparent and important to recognize. A few of these threads include:
The names of the dead read as a reminder of who lives in America. The ancestors of these people came from all parts of the world, and yet they were all together in New York on that fateful day. All races, religions, creeds, and belief systems were represented in those who died.
Everyone who died had someone (or many) who cared about them, and misses them very much to this day. And, the important point that each person was simply a human, living their ordinary life on a clear September morning, when something unforeseeable and utterly horrific happened to them that was completely beyond their control.
This blog post is not the place to discuss the implications of everything that came after 9-11-2001, or of how the world changed forever because of that day. This post is simply my way to honor and remember, along with many others, those whose lives were taken from those whom they loved.
During the livestream, they showed the memorial itself. It is a brilliant representation of the eternal nature of life, death and spirit. A deeply built square fountain and pool of water that continually recycles. Around the perimeter are all the names of those who died carved into the stone rim. There were flowers and flags placed next to everyone’s name. The symbolism is profound as a fitting memorial to the human spirit which can never die, regardless of the destruction of the physical body.
Although today’s memorial service was specifically for the ones who died on 9-11-2001, I also sensed the larger memorial to all of those who have left us through no fault of their own. The pandemic has taken many millions of lives and left millions more behind to grieve. In a real sense, this time on Earth seems to be one of intense grieving and loss. There is a line in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Christian-Judeo bible that states, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die … A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” This is a time to mourn, to remember all that has happened, and to honor it for the lessons we have learned as the whole of humanity.
Dear Readers, many of you know that today, May 6th, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a massive report on the state of our natural world. The news is even worse than many believed. According to the IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Wilson, the evidence presented in the report “presents an ominous picture…the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” (www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment)
The report’s authors found that approximately one million species are threatened with extinction in the not-too-distant (meaning within decades) future, if humanity doesn’t put the brakes on global climate destruction through industrialized civilization. Both the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers carried the story in today’s headlines, and I recommend reading them for further details (links below).
Even though this news is truly beyond words in its implications, I struggle to find some tonight in an effort to cope with what is mostly inevitable now—the extinction of much of our world’s natural ecosystems, which will certainly lead to societal collapse for humanity. I have been writing about this consistently for the past few months, as the evidence clearly shows that our common situation is becoming more and more of a crisis. I implore everyone reading to STAY AWAKE to what is now occurring, and DO NOT allow yourself to go numb in the face of what lies ahead. It is all too easy to do this, and in fact, global consumerism is doing everything within its considerable power to entice us to go numb, go shopping, buy a new car (because that will for sure help things along), watch endless sporting events, and any number of other distractions designed to do anything EXCEPT pay attention to what is actually happening now, before our very eyes, on Earth. WE MUST ALLOW OURSELVES TO FEEL THIS NEWS WITH OUR HEARTS.
Yes, it is difficult, nauseatingly so, to honestly face our deepest fears of annihilation. No one, really no one, on our planet wants to admit that we have ruined our precious home, Earth. Millions, even billions, of us are in utter denial, because taking responsibility for what we’ve done is simply far too painful. In the New York Times article today, there were well over a thousand comments on the story. They ran the gamut from utter sadness and despair, to blaming and shaming any number of groups for our predicament—the Baby Boomers, Big Oil and Gas, the government, the Republican Party of America, even people who haven’t made it to the Vegan club yet.
I am 24 years old. For as long as I remember, I have known about and understood climate change and the impacts it would have on us….I want to live the life I have prepared for and that future generations have had, working in my career field and eventually marrying and having children. I fear that my generation won’t be able to do these things or worse, will do them only to compound and perpetuate the problem. My heart is broken. —Emily, a reader’s comment in NYTimes May 6th article
But honestly, at this point, what good does it do to point fingers and blame this or that group of humans for the mess we are in? Clearly, Big Oil and Gas corporations have shamelessly and lavishly promoted the use of fossil fuels for over half a century, even as they knew of the risks to our planet by burning them. Yes, those corporations’ CEOs and stockholders should be held accountable for their part in it. And, how many of us in the developed (and now developing) nations have been buying and using gas-fueled vehicles for years and years? The truth is, nearly all of us born before the turn of the 21st century are at fault.
It is time to urgently and collectively engage in the process of answering the question: Now what? How do we turn this ship around and stop destroying our world and all the life upon it? The IPBES Global Assessment Report, in its entirety, gives many suggestions and sound, scientifically proven advice for how to do exactly that. The report was compiled by 145 experts from 50 countries, who analyzed scientific papers and reports from approx.. 15,000 scientific and government sources during the past three years, with input form 310 contributing authors. The report ranks for the first time, the five biggest drivers of change in nature, which are listed (in descending order from most impact to lesser) here: 1) changes in land and sea use, 2) direct exploitation of organisms, 3) climate change, 4) pollution and 5) invasive species. (www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment).
Tonight, I feel like I imagine I would if a doctor had just given me or one of my family members a terminal diagnosis. The world’s leading scientists have given us all a terminal diagnosis about the state of our planet’s ecosystems, including the world’s plant, mammal, bird and sea populations. How will we cope with this diagnosis? Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation Facebook group and forum, along with Extinction Rebellion’s websites, are some places to start. There you will find people writing about these reports, ideas, feelings and actions to take as the early medicine to combat our disease. Please do not look away any longer. The sooner we collectively face our self-made tragedy, the sooner we can take actions towards healing and reconciling our part in the new world we’ve created.
Addendum: In the space of twelve hours, the New York Times moved its article on the climate report down to “In Other News,” I guess to make room for an article titled, “See What the Stars Wore at the Met Gala,” as a perfect example of just EXACTLY what is causing our impending extinctions and current crisis. I am dumbfounded.
To borrow a phrase from the reporters at the New York Times, it’s been a busy couple of weeks–not only in politics, but in the world generally. The sound byte version: major floods of biblical proportions in Southeastern Africa that devastated parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, taking hundreds, most likely thousands, of lives and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless; epic flooding in the United States’ Midwest as rains melted snow on top of frozen ground, causing rivers to swell and burst, and causing major highways in Nebraska to close; while major political upheaval continues with the UK’s Brexit impasse, prompting over a million protesters to march in London over the weekend demanding a new referendum vote.
Just before the close of business Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III delivered his report concerning the Trump administration’s alleged ties with Russian intelligence during the 2016 election campaign to Attorney General William Barr. On Sunday, Barr released his short synopsis of Mueller’s report to the American public. (NYTimes, March 24, 2019). His conclusion is that there is not sufficient evidence within the report to claim that Trump, or any of his aides, committed crimes. Barr wrote “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Barr continued his synopsis by explaining there were two parts of the investigation, and regarding the second part, he stated “The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”’ (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/24/us/politics/mueller-report-summary.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage)
Many readers of the New York Times commented on Sunday’s news, with the majority agreeing that while there seemed to not be enough evidence to begin impeachment proceedings, this debacle will continue under Congress in the months to come. Many commenters ended their words by exhorting readers to VOTE 2020.
The past two weeks have felt torrential—one tornado after hurricane after flood, both figuratively and literally. Part of me dreads next week’s news, and next month’s. Superlatives no longer hold much meaning, as the times we’re living through are a continuous stream of superstorms, supercorruption, superviolence, and generally a hyped-up version of everyday reality from what many of us were accustomed to for decades before this one. The relentless energies are exhausting and difficult to manage, prompting people to find any excuse to zone out, shut out, and get out of them in any way they can conceive to do it. Who can blame them? This level of reality is not for those who don’t have the mental and emotional endurance to withstand it.
I’ve been groping to find any shred of positivity within this hurricane of extremes. Toward that end, I pulled out my copy of Active Hope, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone (New World Library, 2012). Joanna Macy is that rare writer who can acknowledge the pain and struggles we experience as beings in human form on this planet, while also reminding us of the absolute wonder and joy of embodiment. In the chapter entitled Honoring Our Pain for the World, she writes,
We can exist in both realities at the same time—going about our normal lives in the mode of Business as Usual while also remaining painfully aware of the multifaceted crises unfolding around us….one way of dealing with the confusion and agony of this splitting is to push the crisis out of view….but this way of living is difficult to sustain, particularly as the condition of our world continues to worsen.
It is difficult even to talk about this….when we feel dread about what may lie ahead, outrage at what is happening to our planet, or sadness about what has already been lost, it is likely we have nowhere to take these feelings.
We can be caught between two fears—the fear of what will happen if we, as a society, continue the way we’re going and the fear of acknowledging how bad things are because of the despair that doing so brings up. (pg. 65)
Macy and Johnstone go on to describe a method of working with these feelings of despair, that she coined The Work that Reconnects. They write that a “central principle is that pain for the world, a phrase that covers a range of feelings including outrage, alarm, grief, guilt, dread and despair, is a normal, healthy response to a world in trauma.” (p. 67)
Macy and Johnstone have been offering workshops and the template to create groups around The Work That Reconnects for many years. They argue that when we allow ourselves to admit our deepest feelings about what’s happening in our world within a safe group, a space is created where a shift can happen. They write,
When we touch into our depths, we find that the pit is not bottomless. When people are able to tell the truth about what they know, see and feel is happening to their world, a transformation occurs.
A range of factors acts together to bring about this shift. It is enlivening to go with, rather than against, the flow of our deep-felt responses to the world. Second, we feel tremendous relief on realizing our solidarity with others. (p. 70)
They describe the grief process developed y J. William Worden, including the stages of first accepting the loss and second, feeling the pain of grief. Macy writes, “each day we lose valuable parts of our biosphere as species become extinct and ecosystems destroyed—yet where is their funeral service? …we need to digest the bad news. That is what rouses us to respond.” (p. 71)
Right now it feels like more than a funeral service, but rather a global memorial is needed to honor all the sentient lives that are being lost with every passing week, month, and season. Our world is being swept away, destroyed and reformed into something different as we go about our lives, with one foot in each—the old world that’s dying, and the new one, forming under the very ground we are shakily standing on. Perhaps the best metaphor for our current state can be found in a remarkable story in this weekend’s Guardian. A Norwegian luxury liner found itself in big trouble as it ran into a section of very rough waters off the Norway coast. Huge waves rocked the ship, as its engines failed. The captain sent a mayday distress signal to the mainland, who responded by sending emergency rescue teams to take the guests off the ship to safety. This was a tricky and careful operation, involving smaller boats, several helicopters, and an entire team of rescuers. Eventually, the engines were restarted, and the luxury liner was escorted back out of the danger zone, and into a safe harbor farther south along the coast. The crew said that they were very close to a major disaster, had the liner run aground among rocks in the shallow coastal waters. Fortunately, the crew was able to prevent that from happening, and everyone got through the disaster alive, with few injuries. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/23/hundreds-evacuated-from-cruise-ship-off-norwegian-coast)
In a sea of dramatic and worse news stories, this story appears as a sign of hope. Yes, the people on board the ship were suddenly in a life-threatening situation. They, I assume, all experienced the profound fear of realizing their lives were at stake. They stared mortality in the face, in the middle of an otherwise lovely holiday on a cruise ship. By the end, they were saved from death and forever changed by the experience. And isn’t that what we are collectively experiencing together on our planet now? We are staring at the mortality, not only of uncountable numbers of species, but of coastlines, wetlands, forests, ice sheets, coral reefs, and myriad other natural formations that we’ve known for thousands of years. And we’re staring at our own possible mortality, if we can’t find the way to turn our ship around and get out of the danger zone we’ve created. We must all be willing to talk about it, as Joanna Macy points out. To talk and to acknowledge our fears, our grief, and our bafflement at our situation.