It is the time of the year to take stock, to look back at the previous year and forward to the year to come, ideally with hope and optimism. Sadly today I can only offer you half of the equation, lacking optimism, a modicum of hope. For, of course, we must always continue to hope, but that hope must be based in truth and reality or it is not hope at all.
And therein lie my most serious concerns. We seem, as a people, to be losing our grip on reality. And we seem, many of us, to even be losing our interest in reality. Perhaps an escape from reality, in these difficult times, makes sense. Perhaps it is our salvation as a human species, perhaps our downfall. Only time will tell, but I will tell you today what time will eventually confirm or deny. I will tell you what I see and what I know. For once, I hope to be proven wrong, but I speak from the side of truth and reality.
I don’t have to tell any of you that these are not normal times. If “May You Live In Interesting Times, ”is indeed a Chinese curse, then all of us on the planet today are clearly cursed. Is this curse a final one or can we overcome it?
We, all of us, are living in times of enormous transition, perhaps unequaled by any era in human history save for the invention of the wheel. We are living in a time when our very existence as a species and the very health and survivability of our planet, our home, are in peril.
There is no question anymore that we are in the throes of a climate crisis from which we may not emerge intact. Our planet is rapidly becoming uninhabitable and we, as the permanent residents of that very planet, are turning away from or minimizing that reality. Many of us think that this crisis can be ignored or imagined away by a sleight of mind.
Many who have the power to bring about big changes are instead seduced by the availability of unheard of riches well within their grasp. They betray themselves and betray us all and I must ask what good all that money will do them when the planet and humanity are gone? How much profit will a pipe full of oil bring them then? How much will they enjoy their mansions and their yachts when there is no air left to breathe, no still water upon which to cruise?
If the life of the planet we call home and Mother were the only crisis, it alone would still be an enormous and existential one. But it is far from the only catastrophe we face in the coming year. There are so many other dangers to be faced that I can scarcely bear to name them.
There remains Covid and its many variants and mutations yet to come. As the polar ice melts, releasing dormant viruses, and as climate changes, we are about to experience new and old, known and unknown, illnesses. Can science and medicine anticipate them and stay ahead of them? Most of you who do not deny this reality can answer this question as well as I can. Those who deny the existence of this existential threat are no help at all.
This last year, those of you able to read this article today have survived violence, terror and plague. In the U.S., there is increased violence in the schools, in the streets and even in the houses of worship. Unfettered possession of lethal weapons is considered by many a constitutional right; as a consequence, the threat of violence and chaos has become quotidian. We have all experienced loss, great or small, from loss of loved ones to loss of our own freedom of movement in the past year. None of these changes appears to be temporary. In fact, they seem to be harbingers of increased chaos and calamity to come, accompanied by increased withdrawal from community life, from what we used to call “ordinary life.”
Many of us continue to withdraw, to seek comfort alone or on our ubiquitous phone and computer screens. Could this be a sped up version of evolution, as we turn from the warmth of social life to the icy coldness of virtual existence? Could it be a large scale effort to cope with trauma? Or could it be a dangerous turn leading to the end of our species? Will our doors and our smiles ever be open wide again without fear of danger?
I understand those who wish to bury their heads in the sand, to put one foot in front of the other each day and draw inward, as far away from knowledge and truth as they can get. I understand those who want to make up happier stories and certainly happier endings. But most of all, perhaps because I am one of them, I understand those who are present and accounted for in the fight for survival, for justice and for truth. The latter may be the most difficult and frightening path of all, but it is also the most hopeful.
I promised you the truth at the beginning of this article, but I also promised you hope. And I myself still have that hope. Survival will take the emergence of some s/heroes, some strong forces of change and truth. We have some of them already. I will not name my own list here, but I will leave you, the reader, to make your own short list. S/heroes have always arisen in times of extreme danger. In our current climate, I expect them to come from countries that have not previously led and from groups that have not been allowed to lead. I expect them to be, in the main, women, people of color, the marginalized using the strength and insight that they/we have had to use to survive.
These change makers, who have often been oppressed, colonized and enslaved, already know not just how to invent survival strategies, but how to do so without sacrificing truth and reality. They know how to look doom in the eyes and laugh. They know how to struggle for justice in an unjust world, never sacrificing kindness, generosity and love. Courage means not only struggling to survive, but doing so with truth, resistance and resilience. While there are too many using too much power for their own purposes, no one is more courageous or more powerful than a large number of us joining together.
Yes, this is one of the most, if not the most, challenging times to be alive, but only truth, reality and justice will allow us to survive. I wish you all the courage to face the truth and strength to defy easy solutions and fight for your lives in the new year. No act is too small or too local. I wish you careful and accurate vision to see what really matters. And I wish those among us who have the strength and the spirit needed for the coming struggle all the hope I can muster as we step forward into a new year.
And to all of us, hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.