Think of it. I was born a mere 80 years after the end of the Civil War. My great grandmother, who I knew, was alive then. She took my great grandfather out to the territories to treat his tuberculosis. I used to think with some amazement how they came of age before the automobile, before the telephone, before radio even.
It is now as unimaginable to GenZ that I was born before the end of World War II, before television, Levittown and suburban sprawl, touch tone phones, commercial air travel, cell phones, computers, the internet, robotics, Artificial Intelligence. I flew to Europe the first time in 1961 on a Flying Tiger prop plane; we did it in three hops to refuel. The second trip four years later was on a student ship that took a week, enough time for hanky panky. The pill came on the market when I was in High School. Elvis came on the scene about the same time as I got my period. I saw the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, and watched Edward R. Morrow smoke and soberly present the news. Sputnik was launched when I was in High School. Kennedy was elected before I could vote but I worked on his campaign. The summer after High School I worked at the 1964 World’s Fair. College summers I worked across from the Figaro in Greenwich Village in the era of the Bohemians and then the Beatniks.
The loom of my life
Mass movements for civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, ban the bomb, end the war, anti-nuclear, American Indian Movement, environmental protection are the histories on which my life is woven. I picked the folk music, back to the land, question authority, psychedelics branch of the 60s; my environmental activism started in the late 1980s when we officially went into Overshoot and exponential growth clearly threatened to crash earth’s systems right about now – which explains all my work, projects and activism of the last 30 years. While we knew none of the movements solved the problems they addressed, we thought at least they set a course towards better, a rising social tide, a dream not yet realized but at least a more perfect union. Now the lie is being revealed. Climate activists are facing off Aramco, Exxon and the fossil industries as CO2 TikToks up. The Doomsday Clock is 100 seconds to midnight. #MeToo named a type of abuse I’d considered my private shame. #BlackLivesMatter named the racism that never left this country. Standing Rock made clear that the mercantile class emanating from Northern Europe 500 years ago never intended to cede any land to Indigenous Peoples. The Stock Market is hitting new highs while the economy sputters. Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft are more powerful than the global governments – perhaps they are the government. We are getting it, the whole bundle of exploitation of everyone and everything by the logic of capitalism and the design of money, banking and finance. We are getting intersectionality – but at the 11th hour and 58th minute and 30th second.
Boomers were so bright and shiny back when we came on the scene, riding the rising tide and thinking we made it. I am, by age, at the head of the flotilla of Boomers now drifting towards the horizon, once full of sound and fury, signifying good intentions and cleverness at least, and maybe at best. We rode glories of technologies and consciousness expansion and movements for justice yet have been unable to influence the biggest problem: the apparent incapacity of our species to govern our appetites and grow up sufficiently to alter the march of extinctions. Will we drag a huge net behind ourselves, pulling all the disenfranchised people and glorious diversity of nature along with us off the edge?
My heart is sorrowful at my ignorance and our blindness. And yet, I celebrate every wrong and right turn, every person woven in to my story, all the minor good I may have done even as the major good eludes us still. I celebrate all the creativity and ingenuity and brilliance of the people I’ve grown up and old with – you are amazing. I know this story isn’t over. I know tragic pasts are the loom on which new futures are woven. I know that people at the end of every fallen civilization considered it the end of the world but it wasn’t – it was just the end of the world as they knew it. Migration. Speciation. Seeds buried in the tundra. Life goes on and on. It may be that this current incomprehensible, mostly still invisible complexity and threat to all life will snap into something unimaginable yet as beautiful as the earth when life began – whether humans are here or not. The arc of the Universe is long but it bends always towards wholeness.
What could possible go right?
I’m hosting a series of interviews, sponsored by the Post Carbon Institute, called What Could Possibly Go Right? I’m asking cultural scouts to look into the mess of the moment to tell us what green shoots they see in the slurry of what’s been precipitated by Covid and #BLM and economic contraction. If I asked myself that question – and I might in a video interview of myself – I would say that this is a healing crisis. Healing does not mean curing. I see no bright future over the horizon. We may grow up but I’m not betting on it. I do see truth being faced, though, and reconciliation beginning with all we took from nature and others to build our city on the hill. I love the word “repentance” – Wikipedia richly describes its meanings – because I think this is a moral moment, a falling on our knees before the monumental amplitude of our arrogance. We need to enter a recovery program, to admit we are powerless over our will to power and control, and turn our lives over to a Higher Power. We need to sober up and if there is a “we” anymore, it’s being born now in fire. I don’t mean we should toss our computers (like ten year old desktop in front of me) and cars off the cliff in some act of public contrition. I mean we need to humble ourselves and I see that happening in the massive global marches for justice and the dawning realization that, from the point of view of Coronavirus at least, we are one. Young people know we are 100 seconds to midnight. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are taking the reins in sober awareness of what’s ahead. I’m planting hops, fruit tress and kiwis. Perhaps in the end this will help. I hope I am of use to people a tenth of my age.
Happy Birthday to Me
Having said all this, I’m so grateful for my life, warts and all. I am fully ready to live into this complexity for years and years, all the while repenting and repenting and making amends and welcoming back into my heart all I harmed through my ignorance, aversion or fear. I will work to protect what I can, nourish what is given to me to tend, and keep on with the great adventure of life. Maybe now it’s time to sing this. Or this.
I wanted a party. In person. I had plans to buy everyone masks on which they could write their names or greetings or something funny. I had plans for socially distanced games to play. While isolation has suited parts of myself, it goes against the grain of my life. I pledge allegiance to society, to the messy, in-person, improvisational theater of creating the world together through meetings, families, graduations, weddings, funerals, reunions, dances, concerts, street encounters, marches. Shoulder to shoulder. Hugging and laughing with mouths wide open. Inside I’m as rebellious as Trumpsters on the way to a rally, but I know that Covid makes the rules now and I love my friends and don’t want them all to die in a super-spreader birthday party.
I wrote this instead.