After more than twenty-thousand years of having to live with each other you’d think we’d be better at it. It is 2020, and there are armed conflicts in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Yemen, Libya, Kenya, Somalia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Ukraine, India, Pakistan, Columbia, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, and more. In our own country in 2019 alone 23,958 committed suicide with a gun, another 15,068 killed someone else. There were 415 mass shootings with over 200 children being shot to death. Personal attacks on others’ looks, habits, beliefs, gestures, shortcomings, disabilities, race, ethnicity, faith, has become common, practiced by people in power, proudly perpetuated by too many others. The time when we didn’t ridicule, didn’t make fun of others, is over. Gone. Disagreement has always been common, but now it is accompanied by threats, including from leaders. More people are starving to death than ever in human history, more people are homeless, more people are desperate for help, and the gap between those who can help and those who need help is so vast, neither probably knows the other even exists anymore. Nuclear proliferation appears to be an ambition instead of a deterrent, and the lack of faith, of morality, of basic human decency makes the possibility of attack more likely: “I’m bringing them down with us,” has overruled the cautious yet calculated “We will get through this.”
Sigh. Happy New Year.
The woods are deep and foggy this morning, deer remain bedded down on a path across the property; I see their tails. I hear geese in the distance, in the field toward the bay, and closer to me in the woods cardinals quick from holly to pine while other small birds head to the porch rail for some seed. It is warmer than it should be. I love warm weather, but this is not right; the ground should be even just slightly frozen; I should at the least see my breath. But things change. Weather, news, even me, we change. And then today I wandered out to discover that this path into the wilderness has made me so much more keenly aware of the contrast to the madness in the city. It is beautiful out here; here is where I belong. The river is still, like glass, like memory, like a soft kiss, and the sky is grey but breaking blue like subtle hope, like a promise from someone you trust. It is a prime escape, ever-present. But a growing imbalance, a withdrawal of sorts, occurs whenever I return to town. It makes me uncomfortable, and perhaps that is what has been missing in my isolated life; a sense of discomfort.
It is 2020, and I’ve decided this will be my self-imposed “Year of Discomfort.” A year to get involved, to help those I can, to get out of my comfort zone and see where I can be of some assistance. This is the first entry in year five of A View from this Wilderness. FYI—these little word exercises and journal entries are an attempt to keep any aphasia at bay, remind me later of what I’ve already forgotten—the deer for instance, and the eagle which just glided by. I won’t forget, though, how much warmer it is every year. I just glanced back at the early January entries since 2016, and this is certainly the warmest New Years Day yet. Happy New Year Global Warming.
Oh, nature will be fine. No one disputes that; this isn’t her first rodeo with radical weather patterns. No, in the observations of George Carlin, it is humanity that is going to be screwed, not nature. A major concern among anyone who can think is not necessarily what we are doing to nature as much as what nature is doing to us in retaliation. It’s brutal. Still, while changing weather patterns just might eventually kill the human race, humanity’s own inhumanity is going to get there first. I look at those stats; I read the news riddled with overcrowding and floods and droughts and civil war and civil strife in a world where civility is eroding.
But here, now, on the edge of this brand new decade, my concern is more than the warmer weather. Sure, it makes part of me want to take up the cause and join Greta and fight global warming. But another part of me is rooting for it. Maybe a new race can do better than us. Newsflash to world leaders and hyper-idealistic boomers like myself: the world we were going to change, clean up, finally introduce to peace, not only remained the same, it ebbed into something sardonic and antagonistic.
So how, someone please suggest, how, on the dawn of this decade, does one person make a contribution and hope to turn it around? Greta was great at shaming world leaders; companies have remained true to the Paris agreement despite the US withdrawal, and individuals making others aware of the crack in the moral backbone of our world are nothing short of saviors. But growing individualism and isolation–like me, for example–makes it difficult to gather forces and get on with things.
Being out here in the wilderness has helped me more than I ever anticipated. It is my blood pressure medicine, my anti-depressant, my caffeine. And maybe I’ve reminded some people of the necessity of discovering ourselves by stepping out of the current of current events for a short bit to regroup and head back in. But complete withdrawal is dangerous, even more so when the distance is not between civilization and nature but between each other, and deeper still, that internal distance between what we are doing and what we can do. Maybe what I’ve taken from this wilderness is this: First person singular doesn’t translate well; it doesn’t leave enough room for others to be part of the narrative. And, ironically, the view from the wilderness we call society can be even more isolating. This year would do well with some more cooperation, more helping each other, listening to each other. I wonder how many people wouldn’t have killed themselves if someone, really anyone, had been listening? Maybe we should no longer accept the news that “someone got shot last night,” but instead, “one of us got shot last night.” We’re in this together is an old, tired, Hollywoodesque truism, but, well, we’re in this together for God’s sake. We threw the cigarette butt out the window. We didn’t recycle. We didn’t think our vote counted. We slept last night on a bench in a park. We looked the other way. We were cold. Hungry. Scared. Indifferent. Helpless. We were terrified. Alone. What if we were all guilty? What if we were all held responsible?
How do we know we won’t be?
It seems we never saw the forest for the trees. So we couldn’t see it was us floundering out here all along. Us. US. We need to do more this year.
I know I do. Maybe the only way to face reality is to take a breath, watch the river drift by on an early Wednesday morning, and then gather my forces, head back to town, and engage.
It is a new day. It has to be a new day. It just has to be.