Elegy for Our Common Identities

September 11, 2021

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.

Corey Kilgannon for The New York Times

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.

System Breakdown

It has been a long time since I wrote on this blog. I’ve spent many hours dealing with my despair and conflicting emotions about the catastrophic state of our world. Back in May, when the weather where I live (Denver, Colorado) was sweet and fragrant with blossoms, I already felt trepidation about the coming summer. Every summer since I’ve lived here (from 2014 on), the summers have become increasingly more extreme. This is true for most places around the world—more heat, more extreme hurricanes, floods, drought, and wildfires.

What will our collective future be like?

The Earth/Gaia is clearly going through a cleansing and purging process. Humanity has for eons polluted, abused and taken from her in every way possible. And now she (for Earth/Gaia is indeed a living being, just as we are) is using all means at her disposal (all the elementals) to restore her body and become whole again. The outcomes of this process are all the extreme weather events humanity is experiencing, and will continue to endure into the foreseeable future.

For a moment, I still believed that the worst of climate changes could be avoided. Back when the Paris Climate treaty was signed, nearly six years ago, for a glimmering moment it looked like humanity was finally waking up. World leaders understood the real dangers we faced, and they made a big show to acknowledge them and committed money, time, and resources toward reversing the damage we’d caused over the past several decades of fossil fuel burning.

Every summer into late autumn has proved more devastating than the last. The past several years have been the hottest ever recorded on Earth. The poles are melting at rates much faster than climate scientists believed possible. Siberian forests in the coldest regions of Earth have become infernos each summer. Records continue to be broken for all the extremes, all around the planet. As it turns out, the world leaders who signed the Paris Climate agreement didn’t really mean what they said, what they wrote, nor what they agreed to do. The machine of fossil fuel use continues on and we continue to abuse our planet’s air, water, land, oceans, and resources.

Two years ago on this blog, I posted some articles written by Jem Bendell. He wrote a research paper about the impending collapse of systems due to all the factors I’ve named here. At the time, I was horrified and appalled, and yet I also could understand why he made the assertion that our world would soon experience breakdown. Two years later, Bendell’s predictions are beginning to become our reality. Everywhere one looks, there is system breakdown.

We gather and rebel not with a vision of a fairy-tale future where we have fixed the climate, but because it is right to do what we can. To slow the change. To reduce the harm. To save what we can. To invite us back to sanity and love. The truth is we are scared and we are brave enough to say so. The truth is we are grieving and we are proud enough to say so. The truth is we are traumatised and we are open enough to say so. We are angry and we are calm enough to say so and invite others to join us.” (Jem Bendell’s Opening speech of the international rebellion of Extinction Rebellion in Oxford Circus on April 15th 2019).

It is excruciating to look at the world now. I think that’s why so many people refuse to see what is obviously before them. Denial of our common situation is sadly ubiquitous among many millions of souls.  Brave scientists, authors, thinkers, journalists, and even some awake politicians have been sounding the clarion call for changing human behavior for years, and some for decades. Now we have reached the point of no return. Someone wrote recently, “this may be the coolest summer for the rest of my life.” 

Dear Readers, I am very sad to write that I’ve reached the point where I no longer feel hopeful about our common future on Earth, at least not into the foreseeable future. I refuse to join the crowd who foretells the extinction of the human race. Yet, it seems very clear to me now that the years ahead for all of us will be increasingly difficult to navigate. The extremes in temperature and global heating of the atmosphere will force us to make radical decisions about where and how we live upon Earth going forward. The Elon Musks of the world will likely find extravagant ways to live well, no matter what. But for the rest of the billions of humans, life is about to become much more difficult.

There is a loose community of people alive today who firmly believe that we have now entered into a new, Golden Age of Gaia. They advise against watching the old paradigm of life as we’ve known it for millennia crumble. Some of these folks are serious about aiding this new Earth, and spend their time giving courses, being out in nature with crystals, performing all sorts of healing rituals for Mama Gaia, and envisioning the new, healed and whole Earth and her people. In their scenario, the people have reconciled their dualistic, separate self with the One/All That Is. There is no more war, hunger, greed or bad actors. It’s basically a New Age version of the proverbial Garden of Eden story restored. This group of folks are very serious about their visioning and have been working and waiting for it to manifest for many years. They are still waiting.

As much as I want to also say yes, this New Earth has been birthed and will continue to grow in the decades and centuries ahead, I currently see only evidence of the crumbling and breakdown that apparently “needs to happen” before the new age can begin. For a lot of reasons, I sincerely hope the New Agers are right, and it will only be a matter of time before the world transforms into a beautiful, peaceful, healthy, ideal place filled with happy, secure and peaceful humans who understand that All Is One. However, I personally don’t have much energy left to keep fighting for this someday future world. I am exhausted.

These are tremendously hard words to have to write, and the main reason I seldom post on this blog any longer. No one wants to read such depressing thoughts. I wish so much to report better news. To be fair, there are small pockets of humans around the globe who are raising organic food, saving animals, helping other humans and modeling better and more sustainable ways to live upon Earth. This is wonderful and I applaud them all. But in the face of the vast tsunami of disasters facing large populations of people, these efforts are like trying to put out a hundred thousand acre forest fire with a garden hose.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. I send each of you love and light, and the courage and strength to keep going in your life. May all the small gestures of loving kindness we give to others and to ourselves add up to something amazing and miraculous that we cannot know right now.

The United States of Emergency

I-cant-breathe
Black America is screaming for justice now. (images via The New York Times)

The United States has ignited. The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis by a white police officer was the match that lit the tinderbox of racial tension. Floyd’s death is the latest in a long line of atrocities committed against black people in America at the hands of police. America is in a state of emergency as The People are in the streets battling with police from coast to coast.

 

Former President Barak Obama was quoted in today’s NYTimes. “This is something that’s got to change,” Mr. Obama said, arguing the challenges of the last few weeks were the result of structural problems in the country. “They’re the result of a long history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining and institutionalized racism that too often have been the plague of this original sin of our society.”

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(images via The New York Times)

Thomas Friedman, an opinion columnist for The NYTimes, laments,

What to do? Where can we find the leadership needed to calm this situation, deal with its underlying causes and at least get us through the 2020 election?

Three years ago, I might have hoped that Senate Republicans would step in and restrain Trump. But now we all know better. The Senate Republican caucus today is nothing but a political brothel. Mitch McConnell is the madame. And McConnell and his caucus rent themselves out by the night to whomever will energize the Republican base to keep them in power and secure the economic benefits for their wealthiest donors.  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/ 

A similar tone is found in this opinion piece from The Times’ Editorial Board:

The chaos unleashed by the death of Mr. Floyd defies simple prescriptions; it is a result of too many underlying conditions. Authorities are facing a stern test: It can be all but impossible to police the boundaries of legitimate protest, particularly on the ground. And it must be painful for many police officers who put their lives on the line to hear themselves criticized by their fellow citizens.

Yet the testimony of local journalism, eyewitnesses and videos posted online make clear that too many police officers have little interest in protecting legitimate protest. While some officers have joined protests or knelt in solidarity, others, often in the same cities, have acted savagely, inciting or exacerbating violence.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/opinion/george-floyd-protests-first-amendment

America is on fire with anger, rage and anguish. Two months of being locked down, confined to our homes (if one is fortunate enough to have one) combined with the loss of employment, income and freedom to move about freely, created the conditions for the powder keg that exploded with the murder of George Floyd by the police. Hundreds of thousands are in the streets in more than 140 cities across the country, carrying protest signs, chanting “I can’t breathe,” raising their fists in solidarity and kneeling to remind the authorities of the horrific abuse of power that police have used on black citizens for far too long. Yes, Black Lives Matter. Yes, White Privilege is real. The magnitude of the protests and riots cannot be overstated. This is the Tsunami of Change, right now. We can choose to collectively pivot towards a just and fair society as the old paradigm of control by force breaks apart and goes up in flames.

black power_sky
Black Lives Matter. (images via The New York Times)

Dear Readers, some of you won’t agree with me, but the truth is that no matter where you live in this world, systems of institutionalized oppression have been visited upon your people, whether currently or in the distant past. No one on Earth has been immune from the control mechanisms put in place by those who profit from human suffering. The current crisis in the United States has been a long time in the making. Now that it is upon us,  we can no longer ignore it or be complicit in this struggle. It is ALL of our responsibility to participate in this awesome moment of Revolution. The alarms are screaming everywhere for our collective awakening and it is up to each person to shine the spotlight first within their own heart and see what is there. No matter how painful, how wounded, how dark or how hideous what may be found, it is finally time to really see it, acknowledge it, and then begin the difficult work of forgiving it. Forgiveness is not denial. Forgiving oneself first is the key to being able to change, and then to reconciliation with all others. It is a courageous process and it takes time. The past couple of weeks are showing Americans that the time for fighting violence with yet more violence is over. We MUST go beyond fear of the Other. There is no other.

The NYTimes put up this incredible photo essay showing visceral images from across the United States over the past ten days. I hope you will take the time to gaze at this moment, and ponder what it means to you. Photo Essay-George Floyd protests

Here is a link to an essay posted by Barack Obama in Medium. Many of us are grateful for his calm wisdom right now. https://medium.com/@BarackObama/how-to-make-this-moment-the-turning-point-for-real-change-9fa209806067

reconciliation is possible
Peace and justice go hand in hand when we open our hearts and realize the truth of who we are. (images via The New York Times)