Coping with Non-stop Catastrophe

I can’t help feeling a bizarre sense of surreality as I enjoy a lovely, peaceful, golden September afternoon here in New England while at the same time being deeply plunged into virtual reality, watching the slow but inexorable progress of Hurricane Irma across the Caribbean and up the Florida peninsula.

It’s like living life in a constant state of split-screen.

On the left, there’s my ordinary life, which (thankfully) is at the moment moving forward without much drama.

On the right, there are the dark clouds, howling winds and rising seas of the storms—literal and metaphorical—that are sweeping over other parts of the USA and the world.

The hurricane is an apt weather-metaphor for the tumultuous weeks since the American solar eclipse on August 21. We’ve had more intense news packed into these few weeks than seems possible.

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How are we to maintain our balance, focus and peace of mind when we’re being whipsawed from a Nazi/KKK riot in Charlottesville to an insane dictator in North Korea playing with nuclear missiles to an epic flood in Texas to the racist anti-immigrant president pardoning a known criminal (Sheriff Arpaio) and preparing to deport nearly a million hard-working Dreamers to record-breaking wildfires on the West Coast to the biggest, meanest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic to a once-in-a-century earthquake in Mexico…and it just goes on and on and on.

Compared with figuring out how to survive a hurricane, or how to clean up a city devastated by one, my split-screen dilemma is trivial. But it is a strange polarity that I must navigate every day: staying aware of all the dire circumstances people are living through, while not getting so caught up in that virtual reality—other people’s lives—that I neglect my own, or become immobilized by anxiety and depression.

41DVsVYbnRL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_I wonder if this will be a new diagnosis for the psychiatrists to label and record in their DSM? They could call it virtual reality anxiety syndrome, with complications of depression and insomnia.

Part of the anxiety comes from the awareness that it’s only a matter of time before the camera comes swinging around to me and my part of the world. Right now all is peaceful…but the big one will be heading my way soon too, whether it’s an unprecedented snowstorm or a New York City bombing or car attack or water poisoned by chemicals or a crazy man going amuck with a semi-automatic rifle. All of this has happened already, and will continue to happen…there is no escaping the rapid and deadly beat of life in the 21st century.

So the question becomes how to live with this knowledge while remaining open, empathetic, curious, upbeat—how to live each day as a marvelous gift to be unpacked with delight, while sending love and concern to the other half of the screen—the people who have the misfortune to be dealing with the storm systems now.

How do we keep enjoying life without being overcome with guilt, sorrow and rage at the way others are, at the same exact minute, being forced to suffer?

I am doing the best I can. How about you? I’d be very grateful for any suggestions you may have about how to manage “virtual reality anxiety syndrome” better.

And now, back to you, Irma.

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“Houston, we have a problem.” Heeding Harvey’s Message for Humanity

Water is Life.

Unless it’s coming at you by the trillions of gallons, blown on hurricane-force winds. Then water can be death. And death also lurks in the water that lingers after the storm, contaminated with chemicals, fossil fuels, sewage and decomposing bodies.

Although evangelical preachers may be tempted to blame the storm on the sins of individual Texans, the blame must be spread much more widely, and it has nothing to do with conventional Christian understandings of sin.

We have brought this destruction down on ourselves by our actions and inactions—that much is true. And we have the power to right the wrongs and avoid or at least lessen the catastrophes still to come.

I don’t know if anyone has done a “budget analysis” of which country, on a per capita basis, bears the most responsibility for climate change, but I bet America is right up there at the top.

On a deeper level, Americans have been the great influencers of the 20th century, especially the post-World War II era when the fossil and chemical industries really took off. In trying to keep up with the Americans, the rest of the world followed suit, and everything seemed almost too good to be true, for a while.

What gave us the arrogant notion that Mother Earth would endlessly tolerate the warming of the oceans, logging of the forests, chemical dousing of the prairies, wholesale destruction of millions of species and industrial-scale torture of domesticated animals? Did we really expect to be able to mine and drill and burn and drain and pave without any consequences?

I don’t believe in “Mother Earth” as a Kali-like goddess bent on vengeance; but as Gaia, a living system striving to stay balanced and flourish through every living particle of her being, our planet will naturally seek to return to the steady state that humans have destroyed in the past fifty or so years.

Gaia has her own ways of curbing an invasive species. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, earthquakes, epidemics…these are not acts of a vengeful God but the natural biofeedback methods of our planet, seeking stasis and harmony.

This is no comfort to Texans going back to destroyed homes and neighborhoods this weekend. It’s no comfort to the rest of us on the East Coast, keeping a wary eye on the next hurricane churning in our direction across the Atlantic, Category 3 Hurricane Irma.

 

In the old days, a preacher could look out at a grieving, distressed congregation and offer the solace that death and disaster were part of God’s plan. The message was to bow our heads and humbly accept the suffering as part of the human experience.

But these early 21st century “natural” disasters are neither divine retribution nor a cross we must bear as the price of being human.

The mind-blowing tragedy of Houston and the surrounding area is the simple result of human arrogance, shortsightedness, greed and stupidity.

  • Build petro-chemical plants on salt-water marshes along the ocean and see what happens.
  • Build housing developments on low-lying land along rivers and bayous and watch them flood.
  • Burn fossil fuels as fast and hard as you can, even when you know the consequences of over-heating the atmosphere—can you really feign surprise when storms come up out of the hot oceans?

Harvey was preceded by Sandy and Irene and Katrina…it will be followed by more and more staggering storms, until we finally get the message: we cannot continue to live as though the world were our sewer.

We cannot continue to focus our intelligence on developing ever-more-destructive weapons and toxic chemicals, on engineering feats that ride roughshod over natural habitats and drive other members of the Earth community over the cliff of extinction.

Our intelligence is desperately needed now, but in the service of Life, not Death.

Water is Life. Air is Life. Earth is Life. The good Fire of our Sun is Life.

But only when these elements are balanced and respected. Out of balance, rendered toxic, they spell our doom.

It is late, but not too late, to pull our planet back from the brink of the major reset she’s tracking towards.

If the preachers want to send a useful message, how about reminding people of our responsibility to steward the Earth? When the floods came in Biblical times, Noah built an Ark, not just for himself and his family, but for all the creatures on Earth.

We must recognize our entire planet, our Gaia, as a precious, sacred Ark of Life, for which we are the pilots and tenders.

She is sending us wake-up call after wake-up call. Are we awake yet?

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Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station, 8/25/17. Credit: NASA European Pressphoto Agency

Apres le deluge comes the fire: it’s time for another big march in America!

It is so sunny and peaceful here in Massachusetts, it’s hard to believe that Texas is in the middle of a hurricane with high winds and epic downpours that are expected to go on for days.

How convenient for the president and his henchmen, a natural disaster to distract everyone while a racist bigot sheriff is pardoned (Arpaio), a white nationalist fascist advisor is sent back into the shadows (Gorka) and the systematic work of undoing environmental protections goes full steam ahead (Bears Ears).

The circular motion of the hurricane seems an appropriate weather metaphor for America this August, whirling around the black eye of the solar eclipse. But this political hurricane has no end in sight. It just keeps getting stronger and stronger, worse and worse.

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Hurricane Harvey hits Texas, August 25, 2017

There is no fighting against a hurricane. You can only try to flee out of the storm’s path, or if that is impossible, do your best to hunker down and survive.

Like the Texas palm trees, we bend and bow under the fierce winds that Trump and his gang have unleashed upon the land. The pace of un-American proclamations and acts is so rapid and intense, we are under constant siege. How long before we snap?

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Winds of 130 mph as Harvey hit the coast

But the metaphor only goes so far. In today’s political hurricane, we do not have to flee or hide in our homes. Here in sunny New England, we are free to come and go as we please.

It’s time for another big march, people. Things have gone from bad to worse since the Women’s March on Washington in January. We are all under constant assault from this White House and Republican Congress, and the Democrats are sitting on their hands. It’s time for the people to rise up and defy the battering winds of the Trump machine.

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Women’s March on Washington, January 2017

How about on Labor Day? An uprising in every city and town across America, a show of force and unity in the shared vision of the peaceful, just, harmonious country we want to live in and create together.

But we could take the next step and make this an actual March for Impeachment, a march to show the president and his cronies that we see what they’re up to and we won’t stand for it.

We know they got where they are by trickery and manipulation (gerrymandering, hacking, corruption of all kinds). They were not elected by a majority of this country and it’s time for that majority to come out and let them know it.

If the Democrats won’t lead the charge, we need to do it for them.

Fired up? Ready to go!

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Still more work to do.

 

 

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