Jan 04, 2020 04:49 pm
On a cold, rainy morning last week, I was on my way home from the gym when I heard a story on “BBC News Hour” that I keep pondering.
It began with a very short conversation between Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough. The young Swedish climate activist and the elderly documentary filmmaker—there are 77 years difference in their ages—express sincere appreciation for each other’s work. [Click here to listen to the interview, which begins at 45 minutes into the program. Note that the link will expire at the end of January.]
But the part of the story that has stuck with me was an interview at the end with Greta’s father, Svante Thunberg. He talks about how, as a child, his daughter had watched Attenborough’s nature films and become very sad about what was happening to the planet. For three or four years she was extremely withdrawn and depressed. She would not speak to anyone outside her family and just one of her teachers, and she would eat only at home.
Then she decided to go and sit outside the Swedish parliament building with her Climate Strike sign and some leaflets she made about the ecological crisis. On her third sit-in, someone approached and gave her a vegan Pad Thai dish from a nearby restaurant—and she ate it.
That was the turning point for her, her father says. In other words, accepting that dish from a stranger and eating it in public while she was in the midst of a kind of activism that she had devised and carried out through her own conviction and will made things begin to shift for her.
She is very famous now, says Svante Thunberg, but “she is an ordinary child.” She dances. “She laughs a lot.”
He described it as a “turning point.” And I wonder: was it Greta’s determination to be public with her outrage and grief that opened her enough to accept that food? And did the acceptance of food, which turned out to be nourishing and safe, then further fuel her activism?
We all encounter such turning points throughout our life, the moment when one small action makes another action possible. And somewhere in the transition between them, consciousness, too, begins to unfold in a new direction. We start to see that our old ways don’t necessarily apply to the future. We realize that certain things are possible that, a day ago, were not possible at all.
Wouldn’t you love to talk about this further with Greta Thunberg herself?
What I’m reading
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. This novel is about a young servant girl, Hirut, who becomes a warrior when Italy invades her country of Ethiopia in 1935. The author moves the action back and forward in time, from events that occurred before Hirut’s birth, to snatches of the backgrounds of some of the other characters, to the protagonist’s life as an elderly woman. Hirut is fierce, and part of her fierceness is impelled by the violence done to her physically, sexually, and emotionally. The writing focuses on the inner lives of the characters, even as it makes you feel the dust of the roads, smell the spice and garlic on the cook’s hands, hear the brush crackling on a still night when the enemy is closeby.
For our Christmas tree this year, I decided not to buy a fir tree or even cut one myself, but instead to go out in the woods and find a dead branch that I could repurpose. I set it up in the living room, then got out the box of ornaments, many of which have been on family trees since I was a child, others hand-made by Andy created and his children before I met him. My eagerly-awaited, savory moment was when I unwrapped the little blue elf that was my favorite ornament when I was small. Seeing him again and placing him in a prominent spot on the tree made me nostalgic, happy, grateful, and sad all at once.
Next year my Bali from Within trip (March 2-14, 2020), which I’ve been offering since 2008, will include three stops to find and make beauty at wounded places, which is the focus of my newest book and the organization Radical Joy for Hard Times. Even in Bali, where art, spirituality, and nature are interwoven, the land is hurting. Next year, we’ll visit some of these places with our Balinese guides to bring attention and beauty, for example:
- a river that’s drying up because of tourist development for hotels and spas
- a clove forest that has been damaged by the excessive rains of climate change
- Tanah Lot, one of Bali’s most sacred and scenic temples, slated to be in view of a multi-million dollar hotel and golf course proposed by Donald Trump
Click the link to read more about Bali from Within and download an itinerary.
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"It’s a great vision that Trebbe Johnson is sending out into the world, and it is very much her own. The great central truth of what she is doing is the very hard lesson for all of us in our lives, and yet it is our blessing."
—W.S. Merwin, Former Poet Laureate of the United States