What do we do now, in this bleak autumn of 2017?

Autumn in New England is a beautiful season, when the trees delight us by transforming into brilliant torches of color—gold, red, orange, each tree seeming to compete with her sisters to be the most beautiful and eye-catching of all.

Not this year.

It seems fitting, symbolically speaking, that in 2017 the leaves are simply browning off: shriveling up and falling to the ground in the tree version of heat exhaustion as we plod through a September oppressed by record-breaking high temperatures. In the photos below, the colors on the left belong to October 2016; the almost-bare maple on the right was photographed in mid-September, 2017.

We can no longer talk about climate change as though it were a concern for the future, something our grandchildren will have to contend with.

It’s here.

The monster hurricanes hurtling up out of the super-heated ocean; the millions of acres of dead trees in the West, victims of heat-loving pine bark beetles; the dangerous wildfires consuming all that dead timber; the heat surges in places that used to be reliably cool, like the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic…the only natural disasters we can’t blame on climate change are the earthquakes, and those just seem like angry shrugs from Gaia, the earth goddess, ready to dislodge the invasive hordes of humans that have so disrupted her smooth, harmonious ecological systems.

If, as I’ve perceived for some time now, the personal, the political and the planetary are interlocking systems, overlapping rings in a Venn diagram of human existence, then of course it’s to be expected that the imbalances in the natural world are being mirrored and echoed in disruptions in the political landscape and in our personal lives and awareness.

You feel it, don’t you? To tune into the news is to receive a jolt of anguish, like a powerful electrical charge running through a downed wire—dangerous, unpredictable, out of control.

So a lot of us are tuning out, in self-protection. There is just too much bad news to absorb, and all the disasters are blurring together—the terrorist attacks, the natural disasters, the political horrors that daily revive prejudices and hatreds we hoped were long dead.

Those of us who still have the privilege and luxury of sitting on the sidelines—in safe, intact homes, with enough food and clean water, electricity tamely offering itself in sockets and gas at the ready on our stoves—we watch the bedlam going on elsewhere with dread, knowing that any day it could be our turn.

We’re frozen in the headlights of an inexorable future, just waiting and watching those brown leaves fall.

There have been other times in history when it was possible to see the storm clouds brewing, and people had the time and the choice to act. Germany in the 1930s, for example. With Nazism on the rise, some Jews and other targeted people saw the swastikas on the wall and made the decision to get the hell out while they could, even if it meant leaving behind all their worldly possessions. They chose life, and their descendants thank them for it.

There are eerie parallels with pre-war Germany in the United States today. Zombie haters rise again, and don’t even bother to hide their faces—why should they, with one of their own squatting brazenly in the White House itself?

But now not only is the political landscape roiling, but also the natural landscape. It’s a double whammy, the political and the planetary way off balance, and sucking all of us into a vortex of hurricane strength.

What should we be doing now? I think you know the answers.

Get to higher ground, literally and symbolically. Try to get yourself and your loved ones out of harm’s way, even as you acknowledge that in 2017 nowhere on Earth is truly safe.

In the dystopic futures that so many of our writers are imagining for us lately, it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, or how big or well-furnished your house is. It doesn’t matter how successful you are in your career or where you went to college.

What matters, ultimately, is what has always mattered: the quality of our relationships. Our love for each other, and the way we express that love and caring. We don’t need electricity for that, or credit cards.

This is what John Steinbeck was showing us in the heart-wrenching final scene of Grapes of Wrath, when a young woman whose baby has just died offers her streaming breast to a starving old man.

Grapes of Wrath wasn’t science fiction. Steinbeck was describing the world as he observed it, to an audience that hadn’t yet felt that kind of dire need.

There is not much we as individuals can do to alter the future. The hurricane of climate change is already on its way; the political tornadoes spawned by the Republicans are already wreaking havoc.

Of course, we can stay engaged politically and work for a change of leadership in 2018. But we have to be clear-eyed about the fact that even under Democratic leadership, the U.S. has drifted into ever-more-dangerous waters.

Maybe it’s time to lower the lifeboats and try to get away from the mother ship while that’s still possible. By which I mean, lesson our dependence on nation and build up independence and resiliency on the local level, for ourselves and our communities.

If that sounds like libertarianism, well, we live in strange times.

We humans are located in the sweet spot in the middle of the Venn diagram of personal, political and planetary. What we do in our personal lives radiates outward, with real, palpable effects.

The message in the sad brown leaves of autumn 2017 is this: now is the time to cultivate love at home, build up your resiliency and make friends with your neighbors. What else are we alive for, in these turbulent, discomfiting transition times?

 

 

 

 

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.

hurricane-irma-satellite-noaa-ht-jc-170905_12x5_992

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.

Florida-Prepares-For-Major-Hit-By-Hurricane-Irma.jpeg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

%d bloggers like this: