What do we leave behind? When I consider climate change and nuclear war, I contemplate an empty Earth without us. One day, someone or something will wonder about us. Who we were and how we lived. What will we leave them? When I was a little girl, half of our street was gravel, the other half was paved. We lived on the gravel half. One day, I returned home from school to find the city workers paving the gravel part of our street. We had to park up the street and then walk home. My brother was in high school, and when he arrived a bit later, he walked to the end of our driveway with a stick, and I followed him. He signed his name, and added his high school graduation date. I also wanted to leave a signature, and so I picked up a leaf and pressed it into the soft concrete. It left a delicate and lovely imprint. I admired it for days, and realized that one day, strangers might see it and think about who we were. Tonight, as I walked through the sunset, I wondered if our attempt at forever was still there.
My cousin told me that when I die, if I am cremated, I should bury a few ashes with a headstone. He said if you don’t, you just disappear. Imagine, no evidence that I was ever a guest on Planet Earth. So how, I contemplated, do we live on, especially with such an uncertain future? Just think of the destruction of war. Cities disappear block by block. History is in pieces, and people too. Not much but rubble will remain. And then imagine nuclear war. And if we die out from climate disasters, weeds and vines will soon cover everything. All of it will crumble, except stone. Stone seems to outlast everything else. So all that we have called progress will diminish, and who we were, to a huge degree, will go with it.
My son told me that people today are actually dying of loneliness. We have all but lost our humanity. We look away from suffering, grateful it is not us, as we anxiously walk away, turn off the TV, and avoid eye contact with eyes begging from the deepest despair. We tell ourselves, “They deserve it.” And we are quite sure, it will never be us, only them. The sad thing is that it does happen to us, maybe in a different way, like cancer, infertility, unemployment, or losing someone we love. And we do not deserve it; sadly, none of us get out of here alive. We just choose not to think about it. In our loneliness, how many stories will go untold?
“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” — Margaret Atwood
So how do we leave something of ourselves behind, so that in a million years, someone or something will find it and respond with joy? Sometimes I think what I write, my poetry or my essays, will remain, and someone will read my thoughts. And in certainty, they will, but not in disaster. There is, however, a seed vault in the Arctic. It is an amazing structure built to survive almost anything. The idea behind it is that in the worst case scenario, that some intelligent species will find it, and have the ability to grow plants. To survive, and thrive, and begin again on Planet Earth. Or maybe by a more advanced species that finds the vault and becomes mesmerized by our simplistic civilization, and yet perplexed by our destruction and violence. Are we destined to extinction, or is it possible for us to transcend above who we have become.
I would like to think that climate change is fake, and humans are incapable of destroying each other, but reality must be faced. Humans are troubling creatures, and currently sinking into a denial of reality through technology via a screen as opposed to the real world where we ache and cry, love and cry, and see each other regardless of our worthiness. Empathy is disappearing, hate is flourishing. And we waste time on trivial matters rather than towards love, acceptance, and peace. We leave pieces of ourselves in our children by putting their well being over our own. By living intentionally in regards to the fears and anxieties that are overwhelming our American children. To call the birds, the butterflies, the cows, the dogs, sacred. To take a second look into the eyes of despair, and realize that in a blink, it could be us. Most importantly, we must live in the joy of giving. If we see a kinder, more gentle world, we become it.
Last evening, I walked into a restaurant where I am somewhat a regular. The hostesses started smiling and sharing small but visible waves to me as I walked towards the door. Once I reached them, they seemed sincerely delighted to see me. They gave me a perfect table, and fabulous service. Almost everyone stopped by my table to chat and check on me. I asked them if they were not getting tired of me, and they said, “Oh no, we love for you to come by, no one engages with us like you do. You talk to us.” I smiled at them and wondered, “How do other guests treat them?” As I drove home, I realized how lonely people must be, when a stranger like me is treated so kindly and my presence apparently made such a positive difference in their day. And I must add, they also made my day. So is this not why we are here? To acknowledge our own loneliness in the open arms of others? To welcome strangers into our hearts as if they are family? To feel connected to all living things as if they are ours? To walk through our lives with a heightened awareness of the miracle to which we were born?
“WE HAVE TO WALK IN A WAY THAT WE ONLY PRINT PEACE AND SERENITY ON THE EARTH.
WALK AS IF YOU ARE KISSING THE EARTH WITH YOUR FEET.”
- THICH NHAT HANH, ZEN BUDDHIST MONK, TEACHER, AUTHOR, POET AND PEACE ACTIVIST
In the everyday in which we live, from this point forward, we become saviors. of life, saviors of peace. We leave the Earth and our communities with our invisible gift of sustenance and the hope of evermore. We give certainty to future generations. We become better than those who came before us. The insanity and chaos of today is forgotten in lieu of the promise of tomorrow. The end of our story should never be our legacy. The selfish greed of our time should become the turning point of where we find ourselves now, and where we want to go from here. We are capable of peace, and worthy of the miracle we call Earth. Our gift to our children and our grandchildren is passing down not just an existence of survival, but a civilization and a planet thriving. This is ultimately our most pressing why.
“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” -
Anonymous Greek Proverb
- Patty Brown