Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shedding Hopelessness

Through Blogger's own focus on earth and sustainability blogs, I found myself reading Earth Meanders, and a post completely infused with the despair that is hard to hold off if you have any inkling at all of what the words "peak oil" and "global warming" really mean for the earth and for humanity as we know it. It's a sad conundrum that the very people who care so deeply about the earth and who understand the joy and beauty that surrounds us are often plagued by depression and actual pain as we contemplate the coming debacle.

Coincidentally, on our Crunchy Unschoolers list, we're discussing the novel Ishmael, which I admit I haven't read in over a decade (note to self: re-read this most excellent book and see what it has to say to you now), and the discussion turned along similar lines: why bother pursuing a sustainable existance when all around you are Hummers rocketing towards WalMart to buy the latest shipped-from-China unnecessary products? How do we hold onto joy and yet simultaneously hold the knowledge of what is happening to the earth?

Our family is currently watching Ken Burns The War and so my thoughts have turned often recently to Nazi Germany, to what people endured there, not to mention the frightening parallels to our current eroding democracy and the almost willful giddiness and faith in the rightness of their lives that ordinary people seem determined to stick to in the face of all evidence that we have tipped over the brink of the cliff. I am reminded of the stories of the ordinary German people reported by Milton Mayer in his book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 , people who proclaimed their days under Hitler as the best in their lives. And of Sebastian Haffner's amazing observations in his (unfinished before his death) manuscript Defying Hitler. Written in 1939, before most of the rest of the world even understood the tragedy that Hitler would wreak, he writes about people retreating into a "small, secure, private domain" and of this individual withdrawal contributing to the ease with which Hitler took control.

Such historical examples make it clear to me the importance which even a few dissenting voices can hold. And a read-through of Corrie Ten Boom's amazing auto-biographical book The Hiding Place shows a path to maintaining serenity, love, and grace even in the face of unspeakable horror. Clearly these historians show us that we do have a choice that does not include despair and descent into depression over our current circumstances. The choices we make hold importance, and even the emotions with which we make them can strongly shape our experiences and those of others around us.

As I have been reminded strongly by events over the last week or so, none of us knows the number of our days here. So living a joyful life in congruence with our values seems to be to me the only path that makes sense. I feel a qualitative difference about the things I can do, make, cook by hand or by cooperation with others. Things feel more blessed, more infused with joy. If there is any path out of the current madness, I think the light will have to be held high by people who are already starting to walk down that path. Others will be thrust upon it, scared and angry. A serious environmentalist I know sees herself as one who is learning so that she can show the way to others. Perhaps some pockets of sanity will remain, perhaps there will be good born from all of this, maybe a new society will form. I have to think that these things are still possible. Some of my relatives left their homes in Germany and moved to Russia over 100 years ago. Then war came to Russia and they packed up and came to South Dakota. They farmed, a hard life on the plains. Built a sod house. My great-grandmother who was born there was one of the most joyful people I've ever known. I have to think that joy can survive such hardship.


Liz said...

I read the same blog entry and have been having a similarly despairing week. Australia has recently seen its first imported Hummers and there was a brief flurry of media commentary - the quotes from dealers about how people should be free to make car choices that suit their lifestyles made me livid and utterly despairing at the same time. What difference will my lifestyle changes make when my neighbour can buy a stupidly oversized monster car to tool around Sydney in?

Do I put my efforts into building our own lifeboat and saving what we can, or on trying to convince my neighbours that, in the face of what is coming, a bigger plasma TV or a second car aren't actually necessities of life? Coverage of climate change and even peak oil in the media might be growing but I don't see much evidence that people are throwing off inertia and making anything beyond the most token changes, if that. I love working in my garden and am finding the lifestyle modifications we have been making to be challenging and satisfying in themselves, but at the moment it is all feeling fundamentally pointless.

Sorry to dump all this angst on you, anyway :)

Robin said...

That's okay, I totally understand. I used to have these neighbors who all drove - the parents and the daughter all drove off in three separate cars each morning to three places that were within a couple miles of each other. I don't expect everyone to be gung-ho about riding a bicycle or anything but for pete's sake, could they carpool? For some reason, it drove me nuts and made things feel a bit futile. But you can't really change other people, can you. That's the hard thing.

I think I need to go read more about people like Ghandi right now...

Prayer said...

I love that you cited The Hiding Place in your "Shedding Hopelessness" post, because I re-read that book every so often in order to stay hopeful. I think it's great that Corrie was just an ordinary woman, and yet under extraordinary circumstances she truly made a difference. I also know what Corrie knows about the final hope - that even when the world as we know it is almost certainly coming to an end, we have a future in a life after this one.

Your post is a great reminder to change what we can, even if we're only a drop in the bucket, and let go of the things we can't. Thought-provoking stuff.

Rob said...

This is a cool blog. I'm glad I found you.

Patti the Garden Girl

Jenny said...

I agree completely about focusing on the joy, especially when there are children in the house. Although it is horrifying to think about what their future holds, that is all the more reason to surround them with joy now. Thanks for the post, Robin!