Looking Away

A baffling characteristic of our modern era is how casually we are approaching environmental collapse.

This past week saw the release of a new UN report on biodiversity. Among the headlines were that 1 million animal and plant species (out of 8 million total) are at risk of extinction, and, broadly, the human threat to biodiversity (and thus to humanity itself) is progressing at an unprecedented speed. 

I fear that we will continue to do as we have done, which is to look away.

Seeing environmental devastation brings to light something we are profoundly afraid of. The death of our planet, much like our own deaths, is something we don’t want to think about. And the frenetic pace of daily life gives a remarkable (and socially acceptable) excuse to not think about it.

And yet, there are moments that call on us to confront it. This UN report is one such occasion.

My wish is that we can take a moment and feel into what’s happening, before rushing to think through the obstacles of addressing the problem. To feel what it means to lose our planet, our ancestry and inheritance. To feel what it means that our children will not grow up on the same earth we did. To feel the quiet, natural joys we take for granted - and to imagine a world without them.

It hurts. But it’s on the other side of this hurt that we are enabled to act. Which we must, courageously, if we’re to protect this only, this vital planet.

This is Why I Walk in Winter (2012)

In the daytime it’s nothing. Just some trees, a subtle descent; a gray, traffic-jammed highway sits in the distance. People walk by the overlook. They keep walking. People don’t stop during the day, because in the daytime it’s nothing.

It is in the night when it’s something. Winter has pulled the leaves off their branches, just as dinner and sleep have pulled the people back to their houses, and whether looking up or down from this peak, all I can see is stars. Cars fly and blur. Thousands of street lamps sitting, flickering into the distance. I stand still. I breath. I widen my eyes. It is in the night when it’s something.

In winter it’s everything. This is where I come when I feel the cracks. This is where I come when a friend passes. This is where I come when bridges burn. This is where I come when cold surrounds. In winter it’s everything.

It is never warm. Sometimes I wish it was. We come here in winter, expecting these lights, these stars, these tiny balls of fire to provide at least some hint of heat. But they’re distant. Whether swirling balls of gas or aging bulbs of glass, their beauty blinds when near. It is never warm.

This is why I walk in winter. This is why I like the cold. When the world says hibernate, pray for spring, I don’t. I don’t close my eyes. I love the leaves. I love the sun. But standing here, looking out through these branches, looking at the lights, looking at the sea, watching as the universe is reflected below my freezing toes. This is only possible when leaves have fallen. This is why I walk in winter.

The Naming of Things

From a young age, I acted

From a place of fear.

 

A fear of transgression, then

A fear of retribution, then

A quiet fear that this would be right

And warranted.

 

It has been a project of years, to allow myself

A gracious unwinding. To allow myself

People and places who could

Direct my eyes inward. Who could

Teach me to name what I felt,

Which is vital,

For it is in the naming of things that they are

Given form, that they may be

Held in our hands, that they may be

Weighed,

Praised,

Loved,

Or let go.

On Losing: Notre Dame

Perhaps it is right that this hit with the pang of losing a loved one. My stomach sank when I saw the images Monday morning, and again when I was reminded of the blaze in the afternoon. Loss of this caliber takes multiple moments of realization to sink in, for that which we are losing is not incidental. It is the ground we walked upon, and we need time to recognize the landscape has shifted.

I visited Paris first with my father and brother when I was 14 years old. I remember the Eiffel tour lit up at night. I remember eating crepes and walking the Tuileries. And I remember visiting Notre Dame - its imposing facade, its elegance and rich ornamentation. Though years have since passed, my first impression of it remains clear - the building had a stature that helped it stand distinct in city and memory alike.

I’ve since visited Paris many times, and on each such occasion have encountered that facade, though rarely did I chose to visit it. Rather, I just ended up there, as if pulled by in by its orbit, its historical weight. It often felt to me that the French spirit itself swirled about its towers, echoed in its chamber.

Thus I mourn for my dear French people. From the time I spent in their country, I came to understand how important cultural history is to them. Thus, this hits at their core - the place from which all distances are measured, in space and in spirit.

And, for me, it is particularly painful to watch this history destroyed at such a volatile moment in human history. With the dangers of climate change, populism, and systemic inequity on the rise around the globe, it is a reminder that neither future nor past is guaranteed - that both must be defended and stewarded for the generations to come.