Updated: Jan 29, 2020
“The Earth is what we all have in common.” —Wendell Berry“The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” -Lady Bird Johnson
It’s immensely satisfying to take a whole stack of old documents and shred them, a few sheets at a time, until they’re diminished to tatters. That’s what I spent part of Tuesday doing – shredding old financial records while I pondered writing topics.
A stack of papers sat on my office floor, beneath my desk, for a couple of months after a complete file clean-out. It grew smaller as I shredded papers here and there, but this last bit lingered longer than it should have. Yesterday, when I needed a repetitive task to do while I thought about my work, that stack served me well.
As I glanced at the date, 2003, on those pages while I fed them into the shredder, and got a little nostalgic. That year my kids were both still at home and unmarried, my father still alive. Abby turned nine that year, made friends with a classmate who kept getting sent out of the room for behavioral strategies to help him be successful. Shawn was in college, learning that it took a lot of time and effort to develop the art skills needed to be a professional artist. My father’s health was in decline, he still grieved for my mother, who died in 2000, and his phone calls for help became more frequent. I worked part-time at the health office in Abby’s elementary school and got appointed to the City of Roseville Parks and Recreation Commission, my writing on the back burner. And my husband Mick did a summer sabbatical in England; Abby and I joined him there for two weeks.
Other than holiday, birthdays, and funerals, how often do we think about all that has shifted over a given span of years? In 2003, we worried about war in Iraq, the possibility of the draft coming back just as Shawn came into his 20s. We worried about Abby, who has type one diabetes and was still on strictly-regimented insulin shots until she got her insulin pump; she needed one of us around every time there was school field trip or athletic event or other event that altered her daily schedule. And we worried about my father’s ever-shortening time on this earth; he had a stroke while I was in England and I returned home to discover he’d lost a large part of his hearing.
As all these thoughts tumbled around in my head, I veered far off-course from what I planned on considering while I shredded papers: the UN report on how one million species face extinction thanks in large part to human activity. I’d read an article in the morning newspaper and even printed it out (we get a digital copy of our newspaper) for further analysis. I didn’t know how to tackle such a massive topic, only knew that it was important to understand it and figure out what actions to take.
I kept shredding paper, thinking about my kids, my father, the fact that we even have this many financial documents to shred. These kids that we’ve now sent out into the world, who now have families of their own, and whom we no longer feed, clothe, protect and hug on a daily basis, were our reasons in 2003 for almost everything we did. The choices we made about jobs and where to live, about insurance and what kind of car to drive, where we spent money and where we tried to save it, all flowed out of the desire to care for our kids. And ourselves, of course. We wanted to be around to see how things turned out.
But how much will all our careful planning matter if the planet on which we’ve all made our homes can no longer support us? All these choices that we’ve made for our families – the financial security we’ve worked for, the houses that keep us warm, the food in our refrigerators that sustains our bodies – have not always taken into account that the care and feeding of ourselves is made possible by the hospitality of the earth. I get it – the immediacy of what’s in front of us usually takes precedence. But consider this: our lack of consideration for the needs of animals and plants and their place in the larger scheme of life has allowed us to harm the very thing that keeps us alive. It’s really as simple as that.
Imagine that the article had said a million children would die because of human activity that is damaging the planet. Would that make bigger headlines? Would you allow the interior of your home to become so dirty that it makes you sick? No. You’d clean it up, figure out how to live in a way the keeps it clean. Why is it so hard to extend that idea to our world? And what about our yards? Many people make sure to use fertilizers and weed control, or ice melt if it’s winter, that doesn’t hurt pets, so let’s do the same for bees, birds, butterflies, and other creatures that assist in pollinating all those plants that produce food and offer us shade and beauty. What we put on the ground matters beyond our property lines. And then there’s all the plastic crap that is floating around the oceans, killing marine animals, devastating the coral reefs – if we can stop using plastic with BPA to keep our babies healthy, then we can stop using plastics on a larger scale to keep other beings healthy, too. And all of that will come back to us in the form of an environment that doesn’t starve or poison us.
This disconnect of what we consider our personal rights and freedoms so we can take care of ourselves and our families from the global community that we are all part of makes me crazy. And it should make you crazy, too. Money isn’t going to matter if everything is so unhealthy that we can’t survive.
Shredding paper turned out to be cathartic. The more I shredded, the more my thoughts moved from family to city to state to country to world. Yes, being nostalgic and considering all that has changed since 2003 got my thoughts to move outward, beyond this family I love so much. I can talk about that UN report article in spite of the enormity of its scope, in spite of my own rudimentary understanding. My next task, as a parent whose kids are out in the world, is to take that world on, keep it from becoming tattered and shredded beyond repair. Make it better. Clean it up.
Yes. It’s as simple and complicated and necessary as that.
Curious to see the article that sparked this post? Visit https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/05/06/one-million-species-face-extinction-un-panel-says-humans-will-suffer-result/?utm_term=.869ab9a48652
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