Category Archives: taking care of our planet
In honour of Earth Day I’m recycling a post I wrote two years ago after my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Bolivia. My post begins with a futuristic look at our Earth.
The year: 3952
The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa.)
A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.
“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest on the team.
“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands. He sighs.
“It’s another one from Giant Tiger he says as he pulls the tattered, bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.
In February, 2012 I was part of a Habitat for Humanity team that helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.
We needed to level and grade the site, and we did this using pick-axes and shovels. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags that wafted to the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to bump into a plastic bag or a plastic bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. This picture is just one small part of the plastic we collected.
The reality about plastic hit home for me.
Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag becomes part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away for a long, long time. Plastic is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other, better options.
I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than, in 2000 years, I want my descendants to find beauty, not ugliness.
“I cannot feel anger against him who is of my kin, nor hate him. We are born to labor together, like the feet, the hands, the eyes, and the rows of upper and lower teeth. To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature, and to be angry against a man or turn one’s back on him is to work against him.” —Marcus Aurelius
We have lived some excruciating Canada/US Olympic rivalries in recent days: Virtue and Moir vs Davis and White, the women’s hockey teams, and today the men’s hockey semi-final. I cheer loudly for Team Canada, of course, but I feel the pain of the US loss, too. I know all Canadians don’t feel that way; many of us (most?) want to see the Americans crushed. To me, that feels like wishing ill on a brother.
Canadians and Americans labour/labor together like North American feet, hands and eyes. Our opinions differ in many ways, but we agree on the most important points. We’ve fought, and continue to fight, different battles on our way to respecting human rights, but both our countries are kilometres/miles ahead of others in that area. We’re both headed the right direction.
When we lose to one another at the Olympics, it might be as irritating as a zit on prom day, but I cannot feel anger.
It’s far too important for us to keep working together.
I couldn’t let Martin Luther King Jr. Day pass without some tribute.
What four words come to mind when you think of him? For me, they are: “I have a dream.“
Bruce Sanguin and others have pointed out that Luther King said “I have a dream,” not “I have a complaint.”
By focusing on what he was for, he stirred people. He was a prophet in the fullest sense of the term. He couldn’t allow an oppressive status quo to carry on unchallenged, and he felt called to energize people to drive change.
If he had focused on what he was so justifiably against—if he had complained—people might have reacted with, “Yes, things are a mess (shrug) but I can’t believe they’ll ever change.”
At my book study group last night we talked about prophets: seekers of social justice, inspired energizers of change. We considered some modern-day prophets: Malala Yousafzai, Craig and Marc Kielburger, and David Suzuki, for example. Our list went on, for we are blessed with many modern-day prophets. All of them respond to a life calling they cannot ignore. All of them seek to change a societal injustice. All of them energize other people to make that change.
All of them have plenty to complain about, and they lay the facts out there for all to know, and then they look forward. And then they tell you what they’re for.
Neil Young take note. We know what you’re against. What are you for?
Some wisdom at the new year from the Elder Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Magical Hour.
There are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in CELEBRATION!
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
“No matter how much or how little money you have flowing through your life, when you direct that flow with soulful purpose, you feel wealthy.” —Lynne Twist
How much time do you spend fretting about things you don’t have?
A renovated kitchen, maybe? A new car to replace your aging Chevy? How about a bigger TV for the family room?
How much time do you spend celebrating the things you already have?
The running water in that kitchen? The freedom to go anywhere anytime in your aging Chevy? The family time together in front of your smaller TV?
Have you ever been startled into your own wealth?
It happened in Canada when I volunteered at the school in my neighbourhood and saw hungry children arrive in the morning. Their families either did not have adequate food for breakfast or adequate life tools to know how to provide stable family support.
It happened in Mexico when I sat across the table from a woman in her 20s who learned to read and write in Spanish along with me. When she was a child, her family did not have the money to send her to school.
It happened in Bolivia when I worked alongside a family to build a modest home. Their entire house would have fit in half of mine, but they overflowed with gratitude for their improved living conditions.
It happened when I arrived home from both of those trips and turned on my taps and drank clean, cold water right then and there, standing at my kitchen sink.
By some standards, I am not wealthy. By other standards, I am rich beyond all imaginings. Most of us in Canada fit into that category. We don’t drive Ferraris or own luxury beach houses in Malibu, but we have comfortable homes, adequate food, education and clean water. Hoozah!
If you take a moment to look around, you might find yourself startled into your own wealth.
Poem by Rabindranath Tagore
I lived on the shady side of the
road and watched my neighbours’
gardens across the way reveling
in the sunshine.
I felt I was poor, and from door
to door went with my hunger.
The more they gave me from
their careless abundance the
more I became aware of my
Till one morning I awoke from my
sleep at the sudden opening of
my door, and you came and
asked for alms.
In despair I broke the lid of my
chest open and was startled into
finding my own wealth.
This post I first wrote in June 2012 might help us to approach September with new vigour. Summer is winding up, and soon our routines resume. Oh, sigh. But wait. Maybe our ordinary routines are more extraordinary than we think.
“. . . I think there might be some presentations that go right over my head, but the most amazing concepts are the ones that go right under my feet.” —Louie Schwartzberg
Louie Schwartzberg has been doing time-lapse filming of flowers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for more than 30 years. It takes him a month to shoot a 4-minute roll of film. His subjects are ordinary. He shoots things we pass by every day with barely a glance: a bee landing on a flower, a strawberry, or a drop of water on a leaf. When Schwartzberg focuses on the flight of the bee, the ripening of the berry, or the movement of the water drop, he does so intensely and over, and over, and over again. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. Watch his work at the link below.
The same is true for professional athletes.
Wayne Gretzky’s DNA blessed him with many natural hockey gifts, but if Gretzky hadn’t passed pucks on his backyard rink until his toes froze night after night from a young age, he would never have become the hockey legend that he is. He focused on the ordinary and did it intensely over, and over, and over again.
Andre Agassi’s book, Open (which I highly recommend), tells of his hours spent returning tennis balls spit at him by the “dragon,” a ball machine modified by what he calls his “fire-breathing father.” Agassi didn’t return all those balls by choice—he desperately wanted to quit—but the ordinary act of returning tennis balls over, and over, and over led to Agassi having an extraordinary return of serve.
Even extraordinary parenting arises from the ordinary. Provide your children with nutritional food over, and over, and over. Squeeze your children with warm hugs over, and over, and over. Wash their dirty socks over, and over, and over. All these ordinary acts add up to extraordinary lives together.
Does the routine of your life feel ordinary? Place an imaginary time-lapse camera on your day and marvel at your simple, amazing, extraordinary acts.