Thursday, May 22, 2008
Memorial Day in the United States is fast approaching. I have an uneasy relationship with this holiday. I live in a small rust-belt town, a very red corner of a blue-ish state. Here, Memorial Day will be celebrated with parades down Main St., speeches at the American Legion, and lots of flag waving. The Boy Scouts will be out in full force, and old soldiers will shed a tear. What makes me uncomfortable is not remembering and honoring the fallen. I will gladly do that. Rather, it is the fact that “honoring” so easily slips in to glorifying militarism and war.
As a mother, I can sympathize with the grief of those who have lost their precious sons and daughters. However, I will not trivialize their loss by claiming I fully comprehend it. I also grieve with those who have lost their children as victims of war, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and paid for their error with their lives, who are not remembered with parades, speeches, or statues.
In the end, there are no real “winners” in war. All sides suffer irreplaceable losses. Especially on Memorial Day, we need to remember that.
As a species, humans have been waging war on the earth for centuries. In recent years, the earth appears to be losing. In truth, we have been warring against ourselves without even realizing it. And, as in any conflict, there are losses. Last Friday was Endangered Species Day. It passed unnoticed for most, and was ignored by the mainstream media. I cannot help but wonder how different things would be if we remembered the passing into extinction of so many fellow earth creatures with the same fervor that we remember our military. Saying that, I do not mean to “bring down” human deaths, but rather to raise up into our consciousness the magnitude of loss for all of us when entire species die off. We are tearing apart the very fabric of life thread by thread. Surely that is worthy of remembrance. Maybe even a statue or two. Maybe even a few tears.
Just as I am incapable of fully fathoming the experience of those who have lost loved ones to war, it is difficult for all of us to completely take in the seriousness of species loss. It seems like a distant war: sad, but not a part of our daily experience. The losses may seem insignificant or irrelevant. What difference does it really make if the American Burying Beetle perishes? How dare I compare that loss to the loss of human life?
You may remember the ill-fated experimental environment, Biosphere 2. Set in the Arizona desert, it was originally intended to be a fully functional environmentally closed system, separate from the outside world. In the end, the environment inside the biosphere collapsed and needed outside help to keep functioning. Most of the animals died. It failed mostly because its creators underestimated the complexity of the environmental systems needed to support life. It attempted to artificially weave a functional web of life with only a few meager strands.
How many species can we lose before the entire life support system of Biosphere 1 (aka Earth) starts to collapse? No one knows.
On Memorial Day, pause and remember the fallen sons and daughters of our country. Recognize that they were unique individuals, and irreplaceable in our human family. And then, pause and remember the Western Back Rhinoceros, the Golden Toad, the Caribbean Monk Seal, and the Laughing Owl. They too, were unique and irreplaceable to our earth family.
Rebecca Hecking writes on eco-spirituality and sustainable living from her home in northwest Pennsylvania. It is her hope that at least some endangered species can be saved from extinction.
*Rebecca wishes to offer special thanks to her friend Candy who offered inspirational ideas for this piece.