One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bloom or Swarm?

I recently learned that a group of jellyfish may be called a bloom or swarm.  I believe the difference has to do with the ability to actively stay together.  Swarms actively stay together while blooms appear because of the seasons.  A bloom may be caused by weather or life cycles of the particular species of jellyfish.  I am not a biologist, but a lover of Wikipedia so do take that description lightly.

It does seem to me, as a lover of language, that the difference between bloom or swarm is not a small one.  Whenever I see jellyfish at an aquariumm, particularly if they have flourescent lights on them, I am likely to agree with the term bloom.  There is some mystifying, peaceful, and exquisite about a jellyfish in motion under the lights.  If, however, my discovery should be on the shores of a beach lined with the bodies of jellyfish while I try to roll a stroller down the sands, then I am ready to declare a scary swarm has occurred.

Which is what happened to me the day after Easter.

It was a beautiful day in Crescent Beach, Florida.  The sun had risen and cast a soft light across the expanse of beach.  Our 8 month old twins were fed, dressed, and strapped into umbrella strollers.  We began our walk down the beach. 

Bam! A jellyfish right in front of me. 

"Yikes" I muttered as I hopped over it and then shared with Ann Marie to be careful. 

It was then that I looked up and saw that it wasn't a stray jellyfish lying on the beach but nearly a hundred scattered down a several mile path.

I thought about the story of the child who finds starfish scattered across the sands one morning and begins throwing them back into the ocean.  An adult approaches to inform the child that they won't be able to save them all.  "There are miles and miles of starfish and you can't make a difference," the adult says.  The child replies as he throws one back in, "it just made a difference to that one."

I chuckled at first imagining trying to save the jellyfish, this swarm dying on the beach.  Who would save a jellyfish?

That night I could not sleep. Why save a starfish but never a jellyfish?  Is life's value only in relationship to me? 

The next day, a new swarm had appeared on the beaches.  So, I pulled a plastic shovel and pail from the stroller and eased one of the jellyfish back into the sea.  Don't think it made it, but maybe it did.  The sun had risen a few hours earlier and the jellyfish had been stranded for at least that long.  I couldn't possibly save all the jellyfish, and it was likely I couldn't save a single one. 

But it still made a difference.

A bloom or a swarm?  A riot or a revolution? 

It makes a difference.

May we speak wisely and with the abundance of truth beyond our own.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Giving Up is a Privilege

Yesterday was 45th Earth Day.

On the one hand, the fact that we are still celebrating Earth Day is an incredible testament to the vision of John McConnell, the creator of Earth Day. 

On the other hand...

45 years y'all!  45 years!!!  Forty-five!  4-5!  Four decades and five years! 1969! 

We can now say that for 45 years we have had at least one day a year when, in theory, people were organizing to protect the earth. Yes, I know people have done this long before 1969.  But what if we just looked at the last 45 years?

The results are varied in terms of success.  Yes, we have had some serious focus on recycling, reducing and reusing.  And, we are still 2° Celsius close to some major wreckage.

I've been aware for some time of the immensity of tackling climate change.  And so when I consider it, I feel as if I swing between advising recycling and putting my head against the air conditioner.  The solutions are systemic, which invariably include adaptive responses rather than technical ones.  And my life is pretty reliant upon technical solutions.  Find problem.  Identify shape.  Match piece to puzzle.  Done.  Next?

Change my lifestyle and basic assumptions?  Say what?!

There is a form of learned helplessness in the face of climate change.  World ending, species extinct, massive change, cataclysmic weather patterns.  Blah. blah. blah.  The spirit and soul are numbed before the statistics and reality.

But then I realized, the simple fact that I can not think about climate change is privilege.  My learned helplessness is a privilege.  My apathy is a privilege. This made me uncomfortable.  I considered perusing Facebook or answering emails, but the truth is persistent.  My apathy was directly related to my life that was filled with privileges.

For mothers in places where there isn't sufficient water and civil wars have erupted, they must think about climate change.  For elders who mine the trash dumps for food with the air thick with contaminants, they must live with climate change.  For the families displaced by mudslides and hurricanes, climate change is not an optional topic.

The late Dorothy Parker would often instruct students in the Catholic social worker movement, "no one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless.  There is too much work to do."

I think there is another dimension to this right to hopelessness.  Put simply, if we don't believe we can change our behaviors and undo the damage, well then we certainly won't.  If we don't believe there is a better future for our children, well then there most certainly will not be one.

This is not a belief we must be convinced of, but a decision to envision a better world.  The decision to live out of hope and for hope.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Hot Cup


Unlike other spiritual practices, you don’t have to work to be vulnerable.   You can cultivate gratitude or compassion.  You can develop your understanding of forgiveness or humility.  Vulnerability, however, just is.  We are vulnerable.  Every second of our lives we might be physically injured, emotionally hurt, lose who we are or die. 
It just is.
 “We were not meant to survive,” wrote the poet Audre Lorde.  Vulnerability doesn’t easily lend itself to T-shirt or bumper sticker like “be happy.”  We seek happiness and peace.  Who wakes up and says, “I think I’ll have an English muffin, toasted with peanut butter and a nice hot cup of death awareness!”  Well maybe the great spiritual teachers like Jesus or Buddha did, but I’ve got emails to answer and tweets to send.  I mean really? Death awareness?  That is so 1st century.
I’ve been wondering lately about my own death avoidance. 
It might be the serious car accident I had in October or the birth of my children.  It could be an early mid-life crisis.  I try to over-achieve.
It’s not a keep-me-up-late-at-night kind of crisis.  It is the kind of thoughts that linger.  I am more aware lately of how our time on planet earth is precious.  What has come from this awareness is the beginning of sensing what is most important in my life.  I told my congregation that my BS bowl had broken in the car accident.  Many of the things that I used to worry about or hold onto just couldn’t be held anymore.
I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately.  Not in a neurotic way.  Perhaps one can only begin to think about death in a neurotic way.  Well, not in a Marlin the clownfish way.  Finding Nemo spoiler alert!  Marlin is the father of Nemo who after a terrible accident involving the death of his wife and children (all but one, Nemo) becomes obsessed about protecting Nemo, his only surviving child.  He is definitely aware of vulnerability but in a neurotic, control-freak way. 
I am not trying to put floaties on my life.
Before the accident, when I heard someone talk about becoming more aware, I roll my eyes.  “I am really working on just being present to life right now.”  Such statements would conjure all sorts of images: self-indulgent walks by ponds followed by sipping on expensive tea.  It turns out, as shocking as it was to me, I was absolutely wrong.
Being more aware is hard work.  It is not a day at the spa.  And depending upon what you are becoming more aware of, it may lead to less awareness in other areas of life.  Facebook birthday posts have gone by and I’ve lost several hobbies in this being more aware journey.  And the more aware I become to my vulnerability, the more I am awakening to the world.  Justice ministry is not pro-forma any more, but the only authentic response to the cray-cray world that is killing my brothers and sisters.
So I am concluding, perhaps prematurely, that if becoming aware leads you to sip tea by the pond, well then you might not be on the awakening experience that I am seeking and hoping others will join me in.  I am talking about the, “I am going to die.  Not just someday, but maybe this day. And so, what then?”
Or rather, what now?