Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Courage to Rethink Everything a Starting Point in Sustainability

--Feature: "Sustainable Soul w/Rebecca Hecking"--

May is in full bloom where I live in northwest Pennsylvania. The long, cold winter feels like a distant memory. The roadsides are looking (mostly) litter-free from the annual Earth Day cleanup frenzy. This year, some local third-graders made signs with slogans like “Do Your Part to Help Earth! Recycle! ” or “Don’t Litter! Save the Earth!”. These are posted strategically at intersections throughout town. Their efforts are sweet and I won’t argue with teaching third graders not to litter, but I can’t help feeling a sense of the surreal when I see them posted nearby the local big box store or just yards away from a formerly wooded lot recently cleared to make way for yet another retail outlet. Somehow I sense that the effort needed to “save the earth” might be just a little more intense and lifestyle-changing.

May is also the time around here when the planting season begins in earnest. It won’t be long before Amish farmers will hitch up their horses and plow the fields. Kids will present their mothers with pots full of newly sprouted marigold seedlings for Mother’s Day. Seeds are magical things: tiny little treasure chests of DNA, full of potential. It is nothing short of astonishing to compare a seed with the resultant fully mature plant. When seeds are planted, their task is to soak up water, swell, then burst through the seed coat sending roots down and delicate green shoots up, growing like mad. Most of the time this process works without a hitch, but sometimes the seed gets too much water and rots without ever breaking through the seed coat.

Sprouting is a supreme act of courage. Breaking free of limitations. Risking radical transformation. Stretching toward the unknown. Sometimes it feels easier to just stay inside one’s seed coat.

It seems appropriate that those third graders should post “Save the Earth!” signs right around the time when seeds are planted and nature is waking up and showing us by example the process of profound, transformative change. It is as though every tree, every seed, every flower and blade of grass are all screaming in unison, “WAKE UP! CHANGE! GROW! DON’T JUST SIT THERE AND ROT!!!” Do we hear them?

The deep, systemic changes needed to accomplish our given task of “Save the Earth!!” involve every aspect of our taken-for-granted thought processes. Can we start valuing intact ecosystems, instead of counting worth only by quarterly profit statements? Can we recognize the creative power of a sprouting seed and value it more highly than the destructive power of a nuclear weapon? Can we open our eyes to the fact that in the end, we who live richly in the developed world are not inherently more worthy of life and happiness than the most destitute and desperate who struggle at the edge of survival? Can we abandon the unfathomable arrogance that declares the American lifestyle as “non-negotiable” even in the face of global ecological collapse?

These are huge questions, and may seem a little “heavy” in an article that mentions third graders and Amish farmers. But that’s precisely the point. We no longer have the luxury of looking at a seedling without being struck to our heart’s core with its profound courageous beauty. We must find within ourselves the love and courage to re-think everything. Look at a child. Look at a tree. Open your heart. Question everything. Don’t just sit inside your seed coat and rot.

Rebecca Hecking is an Eco-spiritual writer with a BS in chemistry and an MA in cultural/equity studies. She plans to spend her summer evenings in a white wicker rocking chair on her front porch where she will sip lemonade and ponder the possibilities of a “Sustainable Soul” book proposal.

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