While most people do not yet recognize it, we live in desperate times. I am referring to the global environmental crisis that includes not only a dangerously deteriorating climate, a rate of extinction not seen in 60 million years that is tearing strands out of the web of life that supports civilization, the imminent arrival of another billion people who need will to eat, who will need clean water that is already in short supply, and the seemingly endless warfare we are inflicting on each other. There. That enough to convince? Desperate times.
How then can anyone be joyful and why should we be? Doesn’t being joyful imply a naive, Pollyanna attitude not worthy of a compassionate, thinking person?
I am in no way suggesting that we ignore the suffering or the evil of those who are causing it, those who are propelling the planet along a fossil fuel death march, who are bombing children in Yemen, who are tearing little ones away from their parents at the border, who are fear-mongering to divide us in order to stay in power. What I am suggesting is twofold.
One is that we forgive them. Don’t jump to conclusions here. By forgiveness I do not mean condoning the evil they do. No. Personally I mean to oppose them at every turn with nonviolence, but also with compassion. That means I can try to understand how they are damaged individuals, or just ignorant of the state of things and of the fundamental truth that we are all brothers and sisters on one small, beautiful planet wending its way through the universe. Somehow they did not learn that and we can try to be their teachers. By forgiving I mean letting go my anger at what they do and who they currently are, freeing myself from their power to damage me, for anger is damaging to the spirit and quite clearly to the body (heart disease, stroke, lowered immunity). A wise man once said that anger is the punishment we give ourselves for somebody else’s mistake. I am going to let that go. Anger clouds our judgement and deprives us of skillful means to take effective actions. I am not going to let them have power over me to make me miserable. They are not going to dictate my response to life. That is going to come out of my own values—my belief in peace, justice and my love for this amazing little planet.
Two, once freed in this way I can then also see the beauty around me—the sunrise, the setting of the moon, the incredible animals who share this planet with us. Just think about the butterflies, puppies, the beauty of the mountains and the sea, the glories of music and the arts. Our loved ones. These are still ours to enjoy. Then, fighting for their preservation becomes in itself a thing of joy. We can be happy warriors (nonviolent, of course). There is such a contradiction in the demeanor of the angry peacemaker—it’s an oxymoron isn’t it?
When I wake up in the morning, I say a prayer of thanks for my sight, hearing, mobility, dexterity, such as they still are at seventy-eight years of age. I look outside and see the frisky little red squirrel enjoying his day, the blue jay at the bird feeder. They make me glad. I thank all those predecessors who invented and maintained civilization for me, and I take joy in the coming day’s opportunity to use whatever resources and talents and time I have to work for the common good, to pass on a peaceful, just society on a restored Earth. Joy in desperate times. For sure.