Category Archives: Leadership

Thank God the Fourth of July Is Over

“Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave…” I ask, over what, exactly, is that banner waving?

July 5, 2020. The full thunder moon. Fitting. We sit within a tempest, even as it is dry as a bone here in the American Northeast: a tempestuous energy that blows through the psyche, through our communities and cities, across the land from coast to coast, and border to border.

I was struck yesterday by how fraught the Fourth of July felt to me this year—with the wildly surging pandemic and the administrative gas-lighting (rather than problem-solving) that plagues the pandemic’s resolution, or at least its reduction. With the occupant in the White House conducting audacious displays of divisiveness at Mount Rushmore and the Washington Mall, inciting people to gather in large numbers, close together (in zip-tied chairs no less) and a “wink wink” no masks or social distancing needed here. “We are invincible! No virus can get us. And if it does, well that is god’s will.” It’s just a little flu, right? One that has killed over 125,000 people just in the U.S. in less than six months—that pesky little virus. It’s of no matter, so the Occupant, in his Rushmore speech, focused instead on protecting racist statues and decrying the progressive left as fascists.

Really??! I looked up the word “fascist” just now to double check. Did I have the meaning wrong? No, I don’t think so … Dictionary.com says, “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism … emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.” Now I know the meaning of fascist has many more nuances, too many to go into here, but this sounds, well enough, like our current status with this president.

Last I knew, the progressive left are fervently focused on saving the earth’s ecosystems before it’s too late and creating social systems that support ALL people, not just those glittering with ill-gotten wealth. Seems reasonable to be passionate about these goals.

Countries with competent leadership and intelligent citizenry abroad are watching us, aghast, and utterly flummoxed. They won’t let Americans fly into their countries without quarantine, if at all. Who could blame them? Countries led by despots just like ours are applauding our idiocy. The weaker America gets, the better for them.

This past week, I’ve noticed that the houses in the rural New England towns near where I live are the “flagged” and the “unflagged.” Or in some cases, the flagged and the “Black Lives Matter” houses. Yesterday, for the Fourth, one house had decorated its yard with quite an impressive number of medium-sized, seemingly brand new flags and a quaint little colonial-style sign that says “God Bless America” hung on a tree. I thought, as I walked past, “Man, we need blessing badly.” Now I like this family, a lot, so as I walked, I tried to understand how, maybe, they viewed the divisive issues we are grappling with as a country. Judging from their flags and crosses, obviously their views are quite different from mine.

Part of me wants to sit down with them and have a good ole lengthy civil discussion about philosophy, religion, politics, and the meaning of life. Or several discussions. But I can’t. For one, civility seems to be in short supply these days. It would be a risk. And, of course, we need to physically distance. And they would probably think I was a weirdo, with my belief that even plants have intelligence; and that all is interconnected and equal, even rocks and minerals; and that consciousness is primary and physical matter is a manifestation of consciousness. (The latter is not that crazy—some quantum physicists are starting to think in these terms. Space-time is starting to appear doomed as a theory. Ancient religions have been saying this for thousands of years.) But I digress.

To me, the Fourth of July felt this year a surreal pageant, playing out like a Stephen King or Robert R. McCammon novel. Indeed the whole year has felt this way. The past four years… The “rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem” in Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” appears to have awoken. We are all painfully aware of its presence. How we view the beast is a matter of perception, and how much love we still connect with in our hearts.

On a long walk down my country road yesterday, on the Fourth of July, I was thinking about the town I grew up in. It was a small New Hampshire town with one general store, a town hall, a town garage, and a library. That’s it. It is still that way to this day, due to vigilant zoning and a coop running the general store. It was mostly white, this town. But we had diversity of economics for sure with some families being very poor. I like to think we all looked out for them, for each other. I know my dad used to stop in regularly to check on an old hermit who lived in a one-room house with his German shepherd. This old hermit knew the town history like no one else and often helped my dad solve his surveying questions (my dad had a part-time gig as a land surveyor).

So as I walked, I was thinking about July 4, 1976 in my hometown: the two-hundredth anniversary of the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed (August 2, 1776). Okay, I didn’t know this but independence was declared on July 2nd; Congress approved the text on July 4th; and it was signed on August 2nd. A little history thanks to Constitutional Facts online.

What a celebration that was in 1976!! I was thirteen. I believe I wore red, white, and blue elephant-bellbottom pants—remember those? Just about everyone in town joined in for picnics, a softball game, log rolling, and fireworks. We even had frog races. One of my favorite memories of time spent with my dad was he and I trying to catch those dang frogs with nets and white buckets at the pond up the road that morning. Easier said than done! Still, my dad and I realized our error as we watched the poor things prodded on hot pavement by clumsy children. We’d just engaged in an act of cruelty. A small dampening of an otherwise happy day. I never caught frogs again. Neither did my dad.

Being young teens, my friends and I were thrilled to find a half-eaten vodka-spiked watermelon on a picnic table that evening. We ate a generous quantity and I was drunk for the first time in my life. We ran through the cemetery, “oohed and awed” at the fireworks, and, on the town hall steps, I kissed a boy for whom I’d been harboring a huge crush.

Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think that the Fourth of July would be a sad day, as it felt this year, in 2020.

Even as I got older, the Fourth was always a cause for celebration. Fireworks synced to WHEB Portsmouth playing Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon.” Sitting on my friend’s roof on State Street with a big party of folks watching the display, my friend’s brother smiling and saying to me as the colorful sparks burst and fluttered earthward, “Each one looks like it’s coming right to us.”

It was my father-in-law driving his old Corvette in the town parade and the barbecue afterwards at their big, old New England home. My husband and his dad squabbling over how to grill properly. My mother-in-law proudly presenting her cucumber molded salad that none of us liked but ate out of duty and our love for her.

Of course, history is never ideal. We had our problems for sure. Humans have always been prone to treat each other and the planet poorly. Wars, genocides, nuclear arms proliferation, Cancer Alleys created by toxic manufacturing of chemicals. Elephants slaughtered for ivory. Crooked politicians: Watergate, Iran-Contra. Religious differences. Serial killers. Crazy cult leaders like Charles Manson. Persistent racism and sexism. The tenacious patriarchy. Cultural revolution in the ‘60s followed by an insipid, growing apathy. And the ever-present human ills: selfishness, greed, egoism, and the like.

But it’s never felt like this.

Like a tinderbox ready to burst into flame. Like a tempest about to unleash. Like a very, very sick society that just needs to go to the infirmary to heal. I’m not the first to wonder if the coronavirus is an outward manifestation of our inner illness, of our cultural ills, of our sick planet.

Yesterday, it felt that the Fourth of July was a symbol of that illness with worries about people gathering in large numbers and giving another boost to the accelerating pandemic in the U.S. The fireworks—I didn’t even have the heart to watch my neighbor’s fireworks out my front windows—they felt as if erupting like the tinderbox I sense that we are. (And I actually worried about a wildfire, it being so dry.) And then there is my knowledge, contrary to my elementary and high school education in the ’70s, that the real narrative is that our independence was won by colonizing and enacting genocide on the indigenous people whose land this was when Europeans arrived. I can’t unsee that and I don’t wish to. It’s the reality we need to face and accept. And fix.

We are encouraged by this holiday to celebrate “freedom.” Yet those with little means, without the justice and respect they deserve, with health issues from toxic pollution from now unregulated or less-regulated factories, can’t take advantage of that freedom in equal ways. The indigenous tribal members who protested at the entrance to Mount Rushmore are still, centuries later, calling for the respect and apology they deserve. They are still fighting to protect their sacred lands, currently dug up and destroyed for oil and gas endeavors and other infrastructure projects we really don’t need and should not build.

The giant Formosa plastics plant they are attempting to build in St. James Parish in Louisiana would further pollute the already polluted communities nearby. The plant will create mountains of trash we can’t dispose of safely. Trash that will float to the shores of other countries. Trash that mother birds will feed to their babies, thinking its food. By 2050 it’s predicted that we will have more plastics in our oceans than fish. We already have enough fossil fuels out of the ground to warm the planet the precarious 2 degrees Celsius that will see 90% of coral reefs die off and flood out major cities (The Story of Plastics; Center for Biological Diversity). We don’t need more oil and gas extracted and piped under the Appalachian Trail or sacred indigenous lakes. We just don’t.

Our country not only has a dangerous, delusional ruler who gleefully supports the fossil fuel industry and rolls out the red carpet for projects like Formosa’s, our country has been, for decades, hijacked by corporate interests that think nothing of melting our polar ice caps or destroying every single species on this earth. More resources to grab and profit from.

Speaking of freedom, what of the brown people we have locked up in detention centers? How is it, that in the land of the free, the “give me your tired, your poor” America, that we deny asylum, lock up people in this way, and simply go about our business?

None of this is cause for celebration.

These are signals that the light of love has burnt out in our hearts, leaving us in darkness. Perhaps this is a necessary part of the process for us to learn, by coming to our knees, that love is the only truth. Maybe this is the only way forward? I don’t know. But it’s painful. And heart-wrenchingly sad. Grief is my constant companion these days. Even as I see the light everywhere: in the nest of blue-headed vireos that flourished in my lilac bush this past month. In the full thunder moon that will rise tonight.

How will we carry America forward? How will we steward the earth? With the light of love reignited in our hearts? Co-created in the spirit of thoughtfulness, communication, and cooperation? Or in pieces and tatters, barricaded behind walls and waving flags, while sacrificing the vulnerable, the “others,” and all the beauty of this planet on the altar of short-term gratification, selfishness, independence, and greed?

We get to choose. We choose every single day. Each day there are consequences of our choices—individually and collectively. Each day we create consequences that could turn us from this darkness to light. Or, we create consequences that could take hundreds of years to rectify. And we create consequences that can never be undone—such as melting permafrost, or a grandmother who dies in the ICU because her grandchild went to a party and, not meaning to, passed the coronavirus on to her.

Let’s pause … live slowly and deliberately. Let’s rethink and revise our words, our actions, and our beliefs. Let’s realize that individually we really don’t know everything and that together, with open ears and minds, we might figure out something. Let’s create good ripples. Let’s celebrate independence in conjunction with cooperation and collective wellness—for we can’t separate them. They have never been separate. In the illusion of separateness, we won’t survive. But with the inclusion of interconnected hearts, we will.

Communion

“Okay, this is where I am. How am I going to let that grief alchemize me into something that can listen to life in a different way? …the awakening is so strong, so rich. Because there’s so much loss going on. The love that’s becoming available because of the grief is so huge [so as to] blast through our apathy.” Clare Dubois, interview on Buddha at the Gas Pump, March 9, 2020

These words and this entire interview with Clare Dubois, the intelligent and passionate founder of Tree Sisters, strikes me in this time. Especially when, this morning, I took a bit of time to catch up on the news and saw headline after headline, from PBS to the NRDC, about this heartless U.S. administration destroying one environmental protection after another—migratory birds, old growth forests, trophy hunting on nature preserves with the allowance to kill animals raising young in their dens, industry bypassing environmental impact studies and rules, deregulation of chemicals and pesticides (that go into our food and our homes, by the way), and the frightening list goes on.

This is where the Orange One has been putting his energy (when he is not bolstering his ego and his image with those he has in his thrall) during Covid-19, during a nation uprising in rightful and right-minded protest. He and those focused only on GDP and $$$ would like us so very much to just forget about the protests and especially the coronavirus. I’ve seen politicians and media encouraging us to go out and spend money! Drink at a bar! Go to the beach! To return to “normal” ASAP. It’s a gas-lighting campaign, for anyone who hasn’t figured that out. If you tell folks it is safe and everything is great enough times, they will believe it.

I know we are weary, but racism is a deep, deep societal ill that will require long, sustained energy to change and heal. We need long-range activism to deal with it. And the virus is still here. This novel coronavirus is here to stay. Yes, we will have waves, spikes, and outbreaks for the foreseeable future (aka, years). Yes, case counts and mortality of the First Wave continue to rise, especially in countries led by despots like the U.S., Brazil & Russia. Yes, if you haven’t already, you will know someone who dies of Covid-19 before long. No, they don’t know how herd immunity will look or if it is likely, yet. Or how long immunity will last – a few months, a year, permanent? We just don’t know yet. No, we won’t have a vaccine distributed to 7 billion people by next year. No, a vaccine won’t magically make normal life reappear. Only small pox was eradicated by vaccine and it took a drastic concerted effort and decades upon decades. Eventually, scientists are thinking Covid’s effects upon those who are vulnerable will grow milder over time, but that will take years. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/2020/05/27/coronavirus-en…/)

So we need to build long-range, thoughtful strategies. We need to work together to RETHINK how we live and what we value, to build a new vision. We should not return to the damaging “normal,” to, in the words of Dubois, “kneel at the altar of the current economy that requires the death of nature [and people] to thrive.”

Donald Trump and his administration have made war on us—war on the environment, war on our health through inaction or negligent action concerning the virus and increased pollutants through deregulation, and have incited renewed war on race, color, and difference of any kind.

This is reality. And acceptance of what IS now, not what once WAS, or what we WISH were true, is the only sensible path. Because acceptance allows us to make rational decisions. Like removing this man and those who support him from office as soon as possible, by whatever legal means we can find.

This is no time for apathy, or magical thinking. And we are rising up, no longer apathetic. This is full of heart and is heart-lifting.

All of these “illnesses” above are rooted in dualistic thinking and the ideology/worship of domination. I have said it and will say it again. We are all interconnected. That small snail crawling on the stone wall after the rain? It is no less important than you. It deserves just as much compassion as you. It deserves life, just like you. Clare Dubois goes on to say that “Communion—oh my god, communion! The most exquisite level of belonging!” It is time for communion my friends. The time is NOW. Before it is too late.

It Is Time for New Visions

The refrain to open up and get back to business as usual, back to “normal” is amplifying. Understandable—being asked to stay mostly in our houses, many not working, and with a tanking economy is not healthy. However, I have a thought: I would like to see a conversation emerge—a loud and pervasive conversation, an unrelenting conversation—that seriously explores the question: “Is ‘normal’ even what we want to or should go back to?”

Initially, of course, we will just need to get up and running, to the extent that we are able, so as to not create a second, more deadly wave of the virus. Just because we have cabin fever does not mean the virus is magically gone. Nor will it be gone for a long while. Nor do we have herd immunity. Researchers are not even certain, at this point (as far as I’ve read) how herd immunity will even play out. But, though I feel we will open too fast and too soon, I get that we need to “open” CAREFULLY so that financially bereft families have income coming in, so they can eat and keep a roof over their heads. I am one of those people. BUT I hope that we will self-reflect for the longer trajectory of “opening.”

Do we really want gridlocked highways? To be sitting in our cars for 2-3 hours a day? To be so harried that we barely get to see our families? To be mindlessly consuming the next shiny thing to quell the existential ache in our hearts?

Do we really want brown air, the same level of noise from traffic and planes, and the machines that bulldoze and carve up our remaining wild spaces? Do we really want a world with so many fewer birds, so many species gone extinct? Do we really want particles of discarded plastic ending up in our food and water, like they are now? Do we really want to eliminate our pollinators with loosely or now unregulated pesticides? (Look sharp to the EPA rules that were suspended and are being drastically eroded.)

Do we want a world of unprecedented droughts, storms, fires and floods due to a dramatically altering climate? Do we really want no ice sheets at our polar caps?? For the permafrost to melt and release large quantities of methane gas and create a runaway warming?

And do we even need to rescue the fossil fuel industry (with price per barrel in the negative)? Let it fall. It is time. It is way past time.

Do we really want to continue a society where some people don’t have a place to get out of danger in the face of a threat like a virus, or a catastrophic weather event? A society where the poorest had the least ability to self-isolate safely, due to crowded living conditions? Where the poorest ran out of food first? Or had the highest mortality rates?

Let’s instead open up to a new idea of “wealth” where the wellbeing of all people, animals, and wild spaces is what is measured, is what drives our decisions, and is the focus of our “work.” Capitalist consumerism is soulless; neoliberalism only works for an elite few and it sucks the life out of Nature and out of us.

Let’s instead pour the recovery energy and money into green technology, into local sustainable living, into buying ourselves more time to do what we love, into more practices of working from home for some of the week, into a new way of living.

Let’s ALL re-envision this, so we can preserve the precious little gifts we’ve discovered while self-isolating.

For those of us privileged enough to have a place to self-isolate, how many people, in the past month, have deepened their relationships with partners and children? How many people made some art for the first time since they could remember? How many people read a really good book? Or several? How many people made amazing food and relished the process? How many people meditated more, walked more, did yoga more? How many people created a much more healthy routine in working from home? How many people did some thoughtful introspection and felt themselves grow consciously and in dedication to live a more compassionate, meaningful life?

Let’s not throw away the silver lining while we chase the gold of the opening up. The reality is that there is no “normal.” We can create a new normal, a better normal.

Renewed Commitment for the Coming Year

It is New Year’s Eve. In our culture we refresh and reset goals. Make new commitments. Try again. I’ve been paying close attention to the news about the Australian bush fires for the past several weeks, some of the worst ever due to extreme heat, changes in rainfall patterns, ocean currents, and extreme drought. The amount of scorched acres is staggering, and the damage to the Gondwana rainforests (an ecosystem that dates back to the dinosaurs) appalling. Today, on New Year’s Eve, I woke up to hear just a brief news mention that researchers estimate up to 500 million animals are dead.

The broadcaster went breezily on to another story, but I had to sit down with that in meditation – 500 million animals. Including 8,000 koalas, 1/3 of the New South Wales koala population. There is a koala hospital there that treated 72 badly burned koalas on Christmas Day. Much of their prime habitat is gone.

I have no words. But it feels important to bear witness to this continuing tragedy. Humanity has major lessons to learn about being good stewards of the earth. Apparently we stubbornly stand to learn the hard way. And sadly, the world’s species are paying a terrible, painful price.

I will keep the spirits of these animals lost, and the ones still living and fighting for their lives, in my mind and heart. I feel grateful for all the fire fighters and animal rescuers on the ground in Australia. I wish I could do more than this in this moment. Separateness is an illusion. We are the web of life. The web of life is us. Those animals were and are us. I will continue to make whatever difference I can to turn this dark tide in the coming year. Who’s with me?

Elder, Not Older

Recently a friend emailed me that she noticed, the other evening while at a holiday gathering, that our friends are getting “long in the tooth.” This gave me pause with a not-so-wonderful feeling, as if I were an old nag about to be sent to the glue factory. At the same time, I have been listening to a number of different interviews with wise thinkers of our time on the topic of aging. I am only 56, but I like to consider what may be coming down the road in my life.

More and more, I strongly feel that we need to learn how to become “elders” as we age—not “olders.” As in how the elders of many indigenous tribes become wise leaders, seers, and guides.

The world needs us—all of us—desperately, right now. So we should resist falling into the box put around older people, and we should also resist the negative language that abounds about the experience of growing older. We should resist ageism.

As we age, we need to access our power as elders, and our beauty.

We have wisdom. We have big picture thinking and understanding. We have history and experience.

So, hear this: My “longer” teeth are for speaking, and biting into problems and chewing them up. Heh heh.

I will strive for good health for as long as possible. I will strive not to be doddering about, mindless and diminished, in calf-socks and orthotic sneakers, devoid of purpose and relegated to a TV. I won’t be marginalized.

I’ll wear beautiful dresses, glitter, ribbons and feathers in my hair. I’ll stand as tall as I am able. I’ll be fiercely kind. I’ll keep singing what matters. I’ll keep making a difference, no matter how small, for goodness, love, and a better world. I will become an elder.