A Long December

As the year draws to a close, I find myself slightly optimistic, but only in the sense that perhaps some of the things that happened this year will not recur next year, that lessons will be learned, dramatic changes will occur, and I will become hopeful again. It’s been a long season of lament and where hope once bubbled abundantly through my being, now I find it’s merely a single flickering candle, a flame that will sometimes twist and nearly fade from view or grow brighter, but doesn’t have the ability to shine enough light to show that there is a way, a path, a direction to be taken.

It’s been a season where beloved people and much wanted babies died, where complications from minor surgery turned grave. A season where relationships sometimes bloomed, but also fractured, possibly beyond repair, or changed in a way that’s no longer comfortable or healthy. Sometimes I’ve had to learn that I believed a relationship existed only to find that in truth it existed only in my head.

Social media feeds kept me informed about all manner of politics, of protesting against injustice, scripture quotes, the climate crisis, racism, sexism, violence and abuse, and also the occasional rare meme or tweet that was funny but not at the expense of a fellow human being.

This year I moved to a new apartment, which meant the final gasping breaths of a dream dying, acceptance that maybe it’s just not possible to live in community, even if it’s with people I love and with whom I share similar values. Though I was an active participant in all that occurred I still sometimes wonder what exactly happened, why things turned out the way they did, and what could have been done differently.

As I walked around the parking lot before and after Christmas, I saw dumpsters and recycle bins filled with the aftermath of excessive consumption, shiny new things purchased by parents and grandparents, spouses and children, daughters and sons, things that are supposed to bring happiness and a feeling of good cheer during this holiday season. This seemed rather incongruous as voices of parents yelling and children crying echoed in the hallway outside of my apartment. Was it necessary to buy all the plastic toys that will be on this planet forever? Will we ever learn that we can’t continue to consume at this rate without causing our own extinction? What sort of world will our grandchildren grow up in? Will they have fresh air, clean water, food to eat? Will they suffer from illnesses and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and grandparents?

The one saving grace in this season has been the forest that sits behind my apartment building. As I walk along the path, leaves crunching under my boots, I listen for the birds, watch the squirrels and chipmunks running up and down the trees, watch the deer, who seem as interested in me as I am in them. I feel at peace, refreshed, at home. It’s hard to describe the beauty and the joy I feel when I’m there and I’m sure Thoreau or others have said it much more eloquently than I could hope to. And yet this beauty is also laced with sadness – a developer owns the land and the city has approved the building of twenty plus new homes that will wipe out the majority of the forest. Staying here when that happens is something I’m afraid I won’t be able to bear and I feel intense pressure to figure out the next step.

Will next year be better? It seems unlikely given what I know at the moment. Many of the problems that plague our country and humankind in general are not easily solved and it’s hard to be patient when change is so painfully slow, and quite frankly, when people refuse to acknowledge what is wrong, who is being harmed, and the role that each of us plays in it. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not clear on the path or direction I need to take, but I’m working on figuring it out.

And so, there is that glimmer of hope and I cling to that because without hope, there can be no revolution. And we are desperately in need of a revolution. As the song from Counting Crows goes, “It’s been a Long December but there’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” Time will tell, eh?

Peacemaking in D.C.

It’s been a few days since I got back from Washington D.C. but this is the first chance I’ve had to write an update.

The road trip started on Thursday as we headed to my cousin’s house in Virginia. She graciously agreed to allow her crazy relatives to spend a couple of nights with her (thanks, Melanie!) and even joined us for the march! It was a long day on the road with the biggest surprise being the forty dollars in tolls to take the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes. Apparently it’s been awhile since I’ve been on them because that was certainly not in my budget! What am I saying? The trip was completely unplanned so none of it was in my budget! 

After a leisurely breakfast on Friday, we drove to the Wiehle-Reston East Station to hop on the Metrorail and take the silver line into D.C. This wasn’t our first time on the train (the last time we each had a toddler and were pregnant, but that’s another story), but things have changed a bit since the mid nineteen-eighties. In other words, we had no idea what we were doing and had to get some human assistance.

Armed with a map and instructions from the self appointed greeters who met us at the Smithsonian rail stop, we headed to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial so we’d know what to do the next day when it was time for the march. It was quite an experience – not sure I can really put it all in words.

After that, we headed to the American History Museum. The highlight for me was seeing the African American History and Culture Gallery where there was a display about the Poor People’s Campaign that took place in 1968. Fifty years ago, an estimated thirty-five million people in the United States lived in poverty. This year the estimate is forty-three million. Hmm, seems like we’re not making much progress . . .

Later in the day, specifically after rush hour started, we hopped aboard the Metrorail’s green line to head to the Festival Center for the evening’s presentation. We spent some leisurely time browsing the books and having a bite to eat at the Potter’s House.

The speakers at the event were Dr. Kit Evans-Ford, John Dear, Ken Butigan, George Paz Martin, and Veronica Pelicaric. While they were all inspirational, I was moved the most by the people who shared their stories of the actions and projects they’d done in their cities over the past few months before coming to Washington D.C. They came from all over the country, one guy even came from Hawaii! It gave me hope that so many people are doing things, though it was a little embarrassing that the contingent of two from Michigan had done pretty much nothing. So far. But we are about to.

It was really late when we got back and it was hard to fall asleep anticipating the march the next day. At barely after six am we were back on the road heading for the train station. This time we rocked it like veterans and got to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in record time. As we gathered, a huge helicopter kept buzzing by our location, no doubt keeping an eye on us protesters. Though we were warned that we could be asked to leave by the park rangers, nothing happened and the rally continued without any issues.

Though I was doing my best to be professional, I did have a fan girl moment when Shane Claiborne arrived. Shane is the author of several life ruining books like Jesus For President, The Irresistible Revolution, Red Letter Revolution and Executing Grace. He’s partly responsible for this current journey I’m on and I just had to introduce myself and shake his hand. Because it would be wrong to kick him when I’m trying to be a peacemaker.

Speakers at the rally were John Dear, Lisa Sharon Harper, George Martin, Shane Claiborne, Ken Butigan, and Reverend Lennox Yearwood. As I listened, I looked up at the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and it looked like tears were streaming down his cheeks.  Were they tears of sadness that in fifty years we’d made so little progress or were they tears of joy that there were still people – however few – peacefully marching for injustice?

We paired up and silently started marching toward the White House. We passed the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As we passed fellow Americans and visitors from other countries, I wondered what they thought of our peaceful demonstration. 

We arrived at the White House and a group of people stepped up to the barricade. We stood directly across from them and it wasn’t long before the police arrived and asked them to leave. They stood their ground and the police called in a van and additional officers. After an hour we were all getting tired, hungry, thirsty (and it had been a really long time since any of us used the bathroom) so we gathered in a circle and each shared one word that was on our lips as we reflected on what we’d experienced so far.

You can see someone standing on top of the White House – not sure if it’s a telescope or a gun that’s pointed at us.

Ironic that an officer with an assault rifle is standing behind our peacemakers

The police explaining that not moving will result in an arrest

Though we would have liked to stay and see things through to the end, we had a long drive ahead of us so we left after the circle. The group ultimately waited about two hours but no arrests happened. What I’d like to believe is that the police continued to wait instead of arresting people so they wouldn’t have to arrest peaceful, respectful citizens who are trying to make a difference.

It will take some time to process everything I experienced, but I wonder – what would have happened if more people stood with us? What if we had two thousand people instead of a couple hundred? What if there were twenty-thousand people? Two-hundred thousand? Would it make a difference? Would the issues of war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction be addressed if more people stood up and said things are not okay? It’s frustrating that most people seem oblivious to the pressing issues of the day, but then until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t doing anything about these issues either. So here’s my plea to everyone that’s reading this post. Do something. You don’t have to march in protests (but you might want to!). Do some research, call or email the people in our legislature, recycle, be a responsible consumer, partner with organizations who stand against injustice, and exercise your right to vote after you’ve thoroughly vetted the candidates. Don’t wait – everyone can do something now.

My favorite shirt at the march

2017 Endeavors

The first week of January is long gone already!  While my actual 2017 goals still remain a bit elusive, I want to share a few things that I’m going to endeavor this year.  First, I am doing whatever I can to make sure that the things that I do and the items that I buy do not harm anyone.  There are a lot of clickable links in this post – if any topic piques your curiosity, I encourage you to go deeper and learn more about it.

Eat Less Beef

When I was a kid, our beef was raised in our own barn, along with chickens, ducks, and pigs.  It wasn’t always easy to see an animal go from baby to the processor (it was pretty easy, however, when that chicken took a chunk out of your leg when you were walking the path from the school bus to the house, or when that steer gave you a swift kick in the stomach for no good reason), but we knew what the animals ate, the conditions in which they lived, and the quality of life they experienced.  While there’s a growing movement of small farms going back to sustainable and humane methods of raising animals, billions of animals are now raised in CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. If you’re not familiar with CAFOs, please click CAFOs above.  Warning: There are extremely disturbing images and information on this site. 

This year I’ll be eating less beef as raising it has the most dramatic negative impact on the environment.  There’s still a little in the freezer and if I dine at someone’s home I will thankfully eat what has been prepared, but as much as possible, I will eat less.  Hopefully we will eventually be able to raise our own pigs and chickens on the farm, but if not, I will obtain them from a local farmer that I know.

Buy Fair Trade Whenever Possible

Perhaps it’s just me, but I honestly had no idea that so many things I consume and enjoy have the potential to cause a great deal of harm to others.  Awhile back I wrote For The Love Of Chocolate but unfortunately, that’s just one industry that enslaves men, women, and children.  There is also cotton and sugar and tobacco and coffee and rice and fruit and vegetables and seafood (shrimp and tuna) and clothes and shoes and bricks and iron and gold and diamonds – you can read more here and here.  January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month so a quick Internet search will give you lots of additional information.

When I buy any of these food or clothing items, I look for local, fair trade, and organic in the hope that no one suffered so I could eat a meal or dress myself.  I use the Better World Shopping Guide if I need to purchase something, making sure that I patronize companies that have a good track record for supporting human rights. Though I’m not in the market to buy diamonds or gold, if I were, I would go to a locally owned jewelry store that sells vintage or estate jewelry. 

Purchase Used Items Instead of New

In 2006 a group of people in San Francisco started a group called The Compact.  Their goal was to go for twelve months without buying anything new.  You can read all the details here.  My favorite proponent of The Compact is Katy Wolk-Stanley, who blogs at www.thenonconsumeradvocate.com. Katy consistently shares Five Frugal Things that she’s done or articles she’s written for Clark Howard’s money saving website. Katy promotes the New England adage “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”  This saying was popular during World War II, but post war prosperity made it obsolete.  In fact, we replace things when we get tired of them with little thought to the environmental cost.

When I was working, some of the dresses and sweaters I wore were purchased at thrift stores.  If anyone noticed, they didn’t say anything about it. Maybe because no one really notices or <gasp!> cares?  Since my retirement, I’ve purchased several winter clothing items at my local thrift store and also raided my Mom’s donation box (thanks for the hat, Mom, it’s perfect!) Sure, they aren’t necessarily in my favorite color or the most attractive, but I’ve found that Hannah and the chickens aren’t really that concerned about how fashionable I look and my main concern is avoiding frostbite.

As much as possible, I will buy from thrift and antique stores.  Yes, it can be time consuming and it’s rare that I find everything I want or need exactly when I want or need it.  Yes, sometimes I have to scrounge through a lot of sketchy stuff to find a gem.  It seems a small concession as I work toward my last endeavor, which is reducing waste.

Reduce Waste

It’s virtually possible to purchase anything that isn’t packaged with scads of non-reusable or non-recyclable materials. Yes, I take my cloth bags along to the grocery store and use little cloth bags when I’m purchasing bulk produce or beans and nuts.  I also take my bags into thrift stores and other retailers so I don’t have to take home yet another plastic bag, which is good, but it only scratches the surface of the problem. There are some products that come in recyclable containers, but the truth is that not everything that is recyclable actually gets recycled, even when someone takes the time to put it into the recycle bin.  The impact of all this waste on the planet is pretty frightening.  You can read more about the zero waste movement here and here.  

It’s little weird, but I made a to go kit that I keep in my car so that if I need to take home leftovers, or if I need to get a drink when I’m out, I have a container or glass to use, avoiding styrofoam or cardboard containers and plastic water bottles. It’s also possible that I take along a freshly laundered pillowcase when I go to Tecumseh Bread & Pastry so I can use it to put bread, bagels, and other baked goods inside.

There are a lot of ways to reduce waste and I’m just getting started on putting things into practice.  Eating less beef, which is typically packaged in styrofoam and plastic, and purchasing used instead of new are also steps in the right direction. 

Lastly, I want to leave you with a song that I enjoy listening to on New Year’s Day, This  Year, by JJ Heller.  You can listen to the official version of This Year or the version I like best here.  I hope you’ll click the link and listen.  My favorite part is the last verse where it says “I plan on thinking less of I and me and resolve to think of us and we.” 

If you’ve already got your goals all lined up for the year, please leave a comment on www.nakedonthetundra.com at the top of the post or on Facebook so I will be inspired to get mine wrapped up!