Why I'm Afraid
Because the world is gone
Because the pebble rain stops falling
and landscapes burn
Because the air might disappear
What if the geese had no home to return to
What is left for us to imagine when
we have made this reality
- Rosalind Brenner, from her book Omega's Garden
My paintings are, for the most part, uplifting, and my poems are dark a lot of the time. Aren't we all capable of both joy and despair? If I catch myself feeling those highs and lows I chalk it up to self-absorption. I'm certainly not being grateful at down moments. Yes, I am grateful when I get glimpses of all the amazing people and things in my life, but when I look at what's happening in the world, I want to stop looking, not see it. What can I actually do?
On the way home from running around the village, buying goodies for my guests, it is morning, before traffic begins to pack the streets. I am listening to Diane Rehm's NPR radio show as I move in and out of the car. The first hour is about chemicals, something like 100,000, in our air, our water, our food, in us, in our babies, seemingly because of lack of regulation, indifference and big money interests. Some we produce and distribute on purpose, we humans, and some are accidental and toxic by-products of our inventions. At one point I hear one of the speakers say that some chemicals do good, but that percentage is very small.
In the second hour, Ms Rehm's guests discuss the Boreal Forest Fire in Canada that forced 88,000 people from their homes. Forest fires can be started by lightning or man. Guess which one is the most responsible? The conversation illustrates how forest wildfires lead to climate change which leads to forest wildfires, and so on until we've done our planet in.
My father said long ago when he first heard of plastic that it would ruin the world. Of course he was an ordinary man and could not foresee the good that could come of plastic. And chemicals? Not on his radar, most of them unknown. But now, if he were here, I'll bet he'd be crying, sentimental man that he was. The inadvertent consequences of our fast-track "progress" have gone way beyond the waste that plastics produce.
So what can I do? I too am ordinary. I can start delivering food to elderly folks in my neighborhood. I can be hospitable in my inn. I can welcome all who come through my door. I can make art.
But the greater question of what to do requires looking at the big picture. And that picture turns me inward to the only thing I can improve. And that's my mind. That is, to do the work required to develop a true mind of compassion, to strip the layers of self-cherishing that make me think my own personal suffering is the worst of all while our planet itself is suffering, and thus, all of us are. We inflict the pain. We are our own victims. Predator and prey. And now this: Orlando.
This is said so well by my son, Dan Koeppel (who is a wonderful writer,) on his recent Facebook post about Orlando. (How horrible that these tragedies start to define our cities.):
"I believe in love and I believe that all human beings need love, deserve love, and are capable of love. All these poor kids were seeking was love, and they were murdered for it. So what do we do? Fight? Give in to the various flavors of hate and blame that are being sold to us (and there's a flavor for everyone; hate works that way, customizing itself so it can sneak into your heart.) Or do we double down on love, and cope with the heartbreak - such heartbreak - and it seems to happen more and more. That increasing the stakes that way turns out to have yielded a losing hand. Again."
More thoughts on the tragedy of the way we treat each other:
The only way to change what seems inevitable is for all of us to change our minds, mind our footprints, our behaviors. This takes vigilance and practice. This takes remembering to care, even in challenging situations, especially in challenging situations, even beyond caring for the people close to us. We can only change the world by changing the way we think. Stop being so damned selfish about our own little worlds. Stop the guns. Stop the money worship that fosters evil. Big picture, one frame at a time.