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.