I'm staring out the window of my tiny writing cottage, surprised to see new rosebuds. I had thought, by July, they were done. But four small buds poke jauntily through a tangle of leaves. Spotting a sliver of pink, I smile.
Until I turn on the news: Bombs fall, shattering bodies. Women are doomed, our rights stripped away. The planet sizzles. Those who can afford air conditioning—and electricity--will be the new elite, further warming our world. Voting rights, democracy itself, are under attack.
How can I hold the joys of rosebuds with the awareness of a cruel planet--and remain engaged without falling into despair, like so many friends?
It helps me to remember history. We have been here before. Twelve generations of people in our country felt the shackles cutting ankles, and birthed twelve generations of children condemned to captivity. We have known the horrors of a Civil War, when brother bayoneted brother and 2% of our population died. As a nation, we have been torn asunder. And we survived.
I look to my garden and see that nature is generous, ever replenishing itself. As a fire clears the forest floor, nourishing soil and allowing sunlight onto new growth, the world's ills can inspire great innovations, benefitting everyone. We see it reflected in wealth: until a few centuries ago extreme poverty was the condition of almost every person on earth (says Vox's Dylan Mathews). Now it's fallen dramatically, lifting over 90% of the world's people from penury. Even during the pandemic, when so many people lost jobs, U.S. stimulus grants and other relief cut poverty to 8%, the lowest rate ever. Still shameful, it should be 0%, but we have to celebrate our successes!
"War is rarer today...than it has been for most of the past 50 years--and when it does occur, is significantly less deadly...Life expectancy, literacy, and stardards of living have all risen to historic highs." (Max Fisher 8/13, NY Times)
While trouble is tough to endure, it also inspires generosity. I saw it personally in the 1960s with Chicago friends, "the Janes," women who did free abortions until our persistent demands won a Supreme Court victory, legalizing abortion. I saw it with people (including my own husband), who risked lives to go South as civil rights workers. And I heard about brave local folks in Georgia and Mississippi who opened homes to that most dangerous of guests: the young civil rights workers new in town, needing places to rest their weary heads.
The many challenges we face now are calling us again to rise, be our best selves, and meet the moment with courage and generosity.
I saw this happen during our first Covid year before vaccines when, at age 80, my wife and I, terrified and trying to avoid people, only crept out of home for walks at dawn. Right away younger neighbors—even strangers--offered to shop for us, week after week during that entire year of 2020, until we got vaccines in Spring, 2021. That difficult time birthed lasting neighborhood friendships.
Human generosity is as abundant as nature's. Camillas keep flowering in winter, roses in spring, and in every season, kindness continues to bloom.
Take heart, my friends. We are going to make it.