The words that describe what’s happening on the planet earth right now are many, and they don’t always make you want to jump for joy or sigh in relief. There is certainly goodness and that which is worthy of gratitude alongside the parts that make you want to scream in frustration or shake someone. But these days, sometimes it’s hard to notice the good stuff. Or when you do notice it, it’s hard to let it take center stage for more than a moment or two.
Recently the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the world’s largest and most diverse place of aquatic life, was declared dead by Outside Magazine. (22% of the coral is dead, not to be confused with the entire reef) The people of Haiti struggle to rebuild that which was just barely standing after yet another disaster hit their shores. People from all over the world stand in solidarity on the Standing Rock reservation as the Dakota Access pipeline tries to keep construction going, continuing the trend of oppressing indigenous people for corporate gain. Donald Trump was elected into the presidency of the United States, and the country is steeped in division as the ugliness that underlays parts of our society is rapidly exposed. Violence remains a normality in too many parts of the world. Distraction wins more often than not, unless you are right there in the thick of the issue. Then survival is all that matters.
So what does this mean? It’s hard to digest all that has come to pass in the last few weeks, or months, or years. I think it means we need to grieve that which has been lost, that which has died (from ideas to trust to species), that which we or our children will never have, and that which is at this very moment fading away. Stephen Jenkins says, “Grief requires us to know the time we are in. We don’t require hope to proceed. We require grief to proceed.”
And then we turn to the words of Joanna Macy. She writes:
Active hope doesn’t require our optimism, and we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless. The guiding impetus is intention; we choose what we aim to bring about, act for, or express. Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide.
We need to acknowledge the time we are in. It’s not a nice time for a lot of people. It’s a downright terrifying and ugly time for way too many forms of life. It’s not a nice time for the Great Barrier Reef or the land of the Bakken Oil fields or the war torn streets of Syria or immigrants/minorities/refugees in America. If the world were a house, there would be rooms for gratitude and joy and celebration, but there would also be a room that can only be filled with grief. And the house will feel empty until the grief is acknowledged, and the door into hope will be stuck.
So perhaps we need a bit of both. We need acknowledge our grief and channel it, when we are ready, into active hope. We need to bear witness to what is going on, even on the toughest of days, and in doing so acknowledge and honor the deep parts of what being human on this earth is all about.