Sunday, February 2, 2014

Just Show Up

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know or care a great deal about the particulars of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There is an enormous amount of information available from pretty much every angle—you can get your scientific statistics, your political wonk numbers, your geographic and geologic jollies, your social justice qualitative data sets, and all the rest. And if that’s your thing, go for it and godspeed. But if you are looking to bolster your resistance to Keystone by marshaling some numbers to throw like flaming arrows at anyone who still believes this horror is a viable energy source, my words will not help you.

I’m not a scientist or a politician. I’m a writer. As such all I’m concerned about here is the state of our souls, and how that relates to the health of the world we live in. Thank whatever you call holy that these ethereal and vitally necessary pieces of our hearts cannot be counted, bought and sold as stocks or votes.

I just drove from Marblehead, Mass. back to my home in Somerville. Yes, I was driving and yes it was just me in the car—any grief that causes you, be aware I already own in spades. But the road cuts along the ocean, by salt marshes and tidal zones. In one place, between Lynn and Revere, a fairly large pipeline or penstock runs beside the road, barely over the water. In some lights, nothing is more heartbreakingly beautiful than this juxtaposition of industry and nature. I feel that enough heartbreak finds us all without looking for, without actively creating, building more.

Perhaps that pipe is harmless. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps its function is crucial to the running of the world. I doubt that, very much. But the idea that the machination and infrastructure of our way of life requires such intensive alteration, such violation, of the natural and beautiful systems and structures of the world makes me nauseous. I don’t wish to live as a Neanderthal, but we must find a healthier balance, rather than asking and taking and pulling out all the Jenga blocks of an ecosystem, rather than leaching poisons and toxic air into everything we touch in our ever expanding quest for something mysteriously known as “enough.” And telling ourselves, over and over, that it is a balance, that with our growing conservation movement and embrace of “green” and “sustainable” choices, we are giving back to the earth. We must also stop being so surprised that the world cannot give and give and give without eventually recoiling with hot and cold spells, with droughts and storms and floods and famines. We are afraid because we did not think and now we are unsure how to proceed, now that sureties are evaporating. It is fine to be frightened. It is not fine to cling to a broken system in hopes it will heal.

Let us then, start at the beginning. Our opposable thumbs, our large brains, our various divine mandates of world domination, they do not entitle us to constantly degrade the health of everything else on earth. If hurting fewer things requires my own life to be smaller and more circumscribed, if my freedoms and purchasing power and very geography can be curtailed for the betterment of anything—songbird egg density to coal miners' lungs to tribal sovereignty to reliable seasons—then I will gladly begin that process.

I am trying to find the practical ways to begin that process, to live out the simpler life that the world I love, the world I want, requires.

At the moment, part of that does require showing up to support a Presidential veto of Keystone XL. I am wary of any one “cause” that people can rally around. Yes, of course, we need a place to start, something concrete to come together over before flying off in our thousand love-netted ways. But here is what irks me—this pipeline, as bad as it is, will not make or break the climate movement. Our carbon levels are already too high, and we cannot seem to marry our knowledge of that, our revulsion of that, with our own actual lives. That is the real cause and effect that needs to be drastically addressed. Keystone will be a watershed moment in terms of Federal, Presidential recognition of climate change and fossil fuel dependence as realities that demand new and diverse solutions, but that, alone is not enough for me. The larger solutions, the effective ones come in how we live, in how we lead, not in how we are lead.

Monday evening is being organized as a rally/solidarity date to demonstrate how much support there is in this country for a future without the dirty tar sands oil of Keystone and all the incorporated evils. I don’t hold much with sign waving and hippy chanting, and I hope that the rally I attend will have neither. But, even so, I’ll still go. I show up for what I love. I don't know what else to do. And like nothing else, I love the knowledge that life doesn’t have to be how it is, killing the planet. There are better ways and we all know this. We can escape the dangerous patterns, but we cannot do this passively.

A vigil, a rally, a whatever brings people together to build the kinder future we want is a chance to see that we are all in this together. We want something better than what we’ve got with aging pipes running over tidal grasses and transmission lines through our beautiful mountains. We need leaders in powerful places, and this includes our own selves and our own hearts. has a whole bunch of these rallies and gatherings. Find one near you, and make the effort to show up. All the logistical details of why you can’t…think of the most lovely place you know and balance what matters most to your heart and soul.

Or make your own event. Light a candle tomorrow night, hug someone you love, start spring seedlings, go for a long walk, pray, make bread, play your favorite song, whatever. But let, for this one night to start, your actions be in service and solidarity to the smaller and kinder future the world requires, that in all its beauty and all your hopes, this place we live deserves.

The other days will follow, as we choose them to be.

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