Fear and the Restatement of the Obvious
So. It’s pushing 95 degrees F (F a lot of things actually). Heat Index has us at 100. I’m holed up in my fourth floor apartment in a house built 110 years ago by people who never expected to need air-conditioning–and didn’t care if their servants melted anyway, regardless, once a shift was over. I’m lucky. I have an air-conditioner to sit in front of and one in the bedroom as well. I’m in an area with lots of tree cover–at least below the fourth floor so we’re over all cooler than where I lived in Rhode Island. That neighborhood had less mature trees. More exposed ground. More scorching. In Maine, anywhere off the coasts, the woods are turning into dense, dark, prickle dens of pine, hot and often oddly dry-feeling, a luxury country club for mosquitoes and black flies. Where I lived for a few years, 10 miles north of Bangor, almost nobody had air-conditioning. The University of Maine (probably still–it’s been six years) justifies letting Stephen King’s original manuscript drafts rot in their oven of Special Collections back storage rooms. Originally, nobody thought the UMaine Orono library would need AC. Now, the school pawns grad assistant salaries and humanities classes to chill their science facilities and student athletic club. The library has never been even a tertiary thought; it’s unlikely much has changed. Many of the people on the street where I lived in ____can’t afford air conditioning, or they couldn’t six years ago, before the economy crashed. If they have it now I shudder to think what it cost. Nobody had central air; no one within a four town radius that I ever saw could have afforded it.
Colorado and New Mexico are burning. The Rockies too, or parts of them. Dead cornfields in Illinois. I drive through Wayland and think I’m looking at a huge expanse of farmland. It’s not, nor even a communal garden, but a golf course, a vast one. I walk through parts of Newton and see expanses of clipped green lawn, plants that need huge amounts of water. You can tell where the money lines break; the border zones have smaller lawns, chain link fences, more modern windows, more air conditioners, less central units, less landscaping, more kids making the best of sprinklers and Italian ice trucks.
I really hesitated to start this piece because at best it seems like I’m setting the stage for something worse, some true evidence that a dystopian break up worthy of Steinbeck is around the corner. At worst, it’s whining. But isn’t that what many of us–yeah, damn straight me included–are at least tempted to do when we’re afraid?
I am truly afraid, not in the terror of an obsessive fixation (I hope), and not in the ‘Radioactive Alien in a scary suit in my dark closet’ mode. I’m deeply afraid and inescapably saddened by the possibility that we will lose this planet. We will lose it, we will not survive the loss as a species and the pain and suffering that we’ll inflict on ourselves and the other living beings we take down with us will be a horror beyond belief.
My husband, born in the 50’s, knew the Nuclear Arms race as it accelerated. He knew the fears of the Atomic Age and lived them in a way I can never imagine, but I was born into and knew the twilight of the Cold War. I remember Ronald Regan’s campaign for reelection mostly for my six year old hope and logic that Walter Mondale would win, and then, being old, he would die and Geraldine Ferraro would become the first girl President. Even more overwhelmingly, though, I remember it for the accusations I overheard, the repeated charges and discussions of whether Ronald Regan wanted to amass enough nuclear weapons to blow up the world. My grandparents lived on Lake Champlain; the back of Valcour Island and expanse of endlessly verbal water made up their front yard. I was awakened at least a few times each night by the sound of a powerful engine roaring low over the water and off into the black sky. I know people explained–probably at length–that these were planes from the Air Force base in town. When I heard the planes at five or six years old–and for years afterward–I wondered, always, if Ronald Regan–or somebody else–had finally found enough weapons to blow up the world and it was starting to happen.
That’s the kind of fear I remember when I watch the news, or when I see dead albatrosses, their stomachs loaded with plastic until they starved or a newly rising dust bowl in the west. It’s what fuels the dull sick and sad frustration at golf courses and seed-grass lawns and SUVs and Conflict Diamonds and pipelines and aquifers on the brink of poison. I know I’m stating the obvious. I know better writers and better minds than I are shouting this from the rooftops, actively fighting for solutions, for awareness for a change. In contrast I feel a lot like the teachers telling my husband at 11 to duck and cover under his desk if a missile was launched. I use mostly rags and cloth instead of paper towels, disposable mop heads, dusters. I clean the Tupperware and use it again instead of tinfoil. I recycle more than my landlords, less than I could potentially, more every time I find a way. No bottle of juice comes into my home that isn’t used a minimum of four times before it goes in the recycle bin. I sew and buy more environmentally healthy cleaners or food as I can afford them. But really, while I’ll never stop trying to make a difference, if it’s just at that level, I’m doing no better than duck and cover.
This is not meant to be a hopeless post. It’s not meant to be a condemnation. –I can’t cast the first stone; I do not qualify. What I really, profoundly hope is that it isn’t the first in a series of good bye letters either. There are multitudes of people who will not make it if we don’t come up with a sane approach. Some of us won’t be able to afford medical care. Some of us will live in areas of environmental disaster and get lost in the next explosion. Some of us, someday, will wither away and die of a broken heart when the land we’re spiritually bound to falls into the sea, or burns or cracks open with coal fire, pollution or drought. More and more, my fear as not that I will be one of those people.–My odds of becoming one of those stories are neither far removed or immediately high. My fear is of having to watch my loved ones, and all that I love about this world go with me, until I am gone and free from the loss.
I have my hope and my calling as an aspiring Minister. I want to spend the rest of my life in the line of people digging our toes in, standing up, trying to change enough so that we and this world do not go over that blurred and dark edge. I think my output will not be among the greatest volume or the most effective efforts. I’m moved to say all that I have because I’m afraid. I’m saddened. I don’t know what is going to happen, and I need to share what I fear if I’m going to fight it. Thanks for hanging in with me.