Thursday, April 27, 2017

Earth Day, Requiescat in Pace


Let’s kill Earth Day.

The kill doesn’t have to be violent. A few means of termination come to mind immediately: a fatal dose of unctuousness with a dollop of messianic fervor; toxic buildup of evangelical environmentalism; or suffocation by smugness.

Let me know if you have some other methods of moral euthanasia you can summon to the cause.

(There. I feel better already now that I’ve exhaled and typed this long-overdue death sentence.)

“Oh,” you protest. “How could you? How can you be so cruel and callous toward Mother Earth? We have no Planet B, you know.”

Spare me.

My coveted role as judge, jury, and executioner has nothing whatsoever to do with Mother Earth, climate change, global warming, denialism, science or anti-science, or political correctness or impolitic incorrectness. And lest you think my words are a sly endorsement of our Not My President (NMP), you can forget that. I condemn and abhor NMP’s choice to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NMP’s proposed budgetary slashes and rollbacks of environmental initiatives of the last several decades.

No, my gripe goes like this: Earth Day is a feckless, feel-good escape, a chance to feel environmentally holy. Sure, many of the priests and priestesses of this secular religion practice their rituals the other 364 days of the year. But the annual cleanup rites typically take place around Earth Day. Earth Day incarnates a branding that has become tired, ungreen, and more harmful than helpful. It’s not, um, sustainable. Earth Day is not unlike waltzing to the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and handing out turkeys. Good for one day, maybe even a week. What has changed? Not much. But nothing bad happened either, etc.

What about those cleanups? Don’t they make you feel grand? Is it the same feeling of sanctity and squeaky-clean absolution I felt as a teenager after going to Confession, with all my impure thoughts scrubbed off my soul for all eternity?

And what about these armies of the day making the world safe for carbon footprints? Picture legions of students or retirees, civic leaders and teachers, work gloves and trash bags in hand, whisked in from their pristine golf-course-riddled suburbs to save the unwashed urban masses from themselves.

How can we ever thank you? How can we ever thank you enough?

For the record, I hate litter. It is contemptuous of civil order, an act of apparent self-loathing and belligerent degradation. Or maybe littering is simply callous solipsism. I cannot claim to fathom its sociological origins or its embrace of cavalier negligence. I’ll leave that to sociologists. But I have a perverse fantasy. During one of these jaunty, community-spirited Earth Day cleanups, I crave for the volunteers to encounter directly a besmirching of the aforementioned civil order. I want the corps of cleaners to see a pizza box or overpackaged burger and fries go flying out a car window, with an added toss of soda-fountain beverage containers, extra large, with straws, napkins, and plastic bags sailing down the boulevard. I crave for the perps and the enforcers to meet head-on. Have at it, boys and girls. Send me a transcript of your friendly dialogue.

Maybe you’ll have better luck than I do. (I may meet my demise one day via one of these uncivil encounters.)

You say Earth Day is about more than Saturday-morning community service cleanups? True, true. I cannot argue with you on that. You won’t get me to condemn tree or flower plantings, or springtime prunings or fertilizations. I can see such acts as commensurate with tender memorial tree plantings honoring deceased loved ones.

As for the deceased? Add Earth Day to the rolls. Rest in peace.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

area of refuge

In the building I just moved into, filled with loft apartments in a former knitting mill, each floor has a designated “Area of Refuge.” These locations are situated near each floor’s entrance to the elevator and on the landings of the four floors, at least one on each end of the building. Residents, especially those with special needs, are instructed to gather in an Area of Refuge. There’s a callbox and a panel where one can “Push for Help.”

 Naturally, as with nearly all signs I encounter, this got me thinking. Don’t we all need an Area of Refuge, at least for part of the day, most days?

 As a grade school student, I once had to deliver something to the teachers’ lounge. The room was billowing with smoke from cigarettes and pipes. I was a messenger visiting a foreign country.  It was shocking. But today I would have to conclude that room was an Area of Refuge for those teachers. They needed a break. They seemed so much more relaxed and jovial. They were remarkably different from their classroom selves. Among them were likely non-smokers as well. It didn’t matter. All were there for a common purpose, despite the health dangers we now proclaim, but did not then.

 If we need Areas of Refuge for work, we need them elsewhere, too: at home, at play, in public, in private.

 Churches and other houses of worship over the centuries have served as sanctuaries, Areas of Refuge. This decade, whole cities, hundreds of them, have offered to be Areas of Refuge for undocumented immigrants.

 We all need a safe harbor now and then, legal or not. People in recovery programs understand the absolute value of radical hospitality when they enter a room where a meeting is held. They depend on it as an Area of Refuge. No questions asked. All are welcome.

 Today, near my new residence, walking to the nearby library, I saw a sign in a window of the elementary school (they used to call it a “magnet school,” but that’s another topic for another time). The sign said “Rescue Window.” I recalled times in my life when I was looking for a Rescue Window anywhere I could find one:  hallucinogens, alcohol, sex, you-name-it. Then I needed a Rescue Window for what I thought was my Rescue Window, because nothing was working.

 What’s your Rescue Window? Food? Yoga? Running? Hiking? Relationships? Quilting?

 The point is, we all need Areas of Refuge and Rescue Windows, even if we think “that’s for someone else.” We tend to think such places — real physical locations or more metaphorical ones — are for those less fortunate, the underprivileged, the hunted. That assumption is wrong.

 We all crave these things. Otherwise, there’d be no need of man caves, social clubs, knitting circles, places of worship, booster clubs, book clubs, flower guilds, PTOs, union halls, or bars.

 The lingering mystery, however, is “what do we do when we get there?” What do we do when we arrive at the Area of Refuge? Tell jokes? Calm nerves? (How?) Hold hands? Meditate? Pray? Sing rock ‘n’ roll oldies together? Tell ghost stories to each other?

 At the Rescue Window, are we reaching in or reaching out?

 The answers to these questions are endless. And I submit the answers don’t matter all that much, not as much as we imagine.

 What matters is being there, arriving at the Area of Refuge or Rescue Window. Together as we can be — awkwardly, fearfully, and hopefully.