At Full Moon Cottage, the daily round in early autumn must often adjust to sudden changes in weather: within minutes, the sky alters from bright blue to gunmetal; the light shifts from brilliant to opaque; clouds form, move, and dissipate at variable rates; temperatures rise and drop rapidly, and the wind suddenly makes her entrance like a diva, scattering leaves in clattering swirls and high drama. Normally, I welcome and savor this aspect of fall, but this year, I’ve found myself, during a pandemic quarantine, living the astonishing adventure of co-creating a beautiful book and now conducting a virtual tour to promote its publication, and the unpredictable weather has made scheduling all things virtual quite dicey, due to precarious satellite internet, where no fiber optic or cable are available.
I’d recently been invited to tape an interview with the wonderful people involved with The Miami Book Fair, scheduled for November 15-22 this year. We’d agreed to tape the interview yesterday, so Phillip and I were trying to set up all the necessary equipment for a virtual interview: the camera, mic, extra light rings, tables, chairs, and books for elevating the computer, or me, cords and more cords, etc., while the outside light gradually diminished and then disappeared altogether, then wavered and shone again, confusing our selection of the right spot for the interview.
At one point in our maneuvers, we glanced outside at the canopy set up on the back deck. We discussed quickly taking it down for storage, since the wind speed was increasing, but shrugged, and continued spiking and striking our set, testing the light and internet reception in each new location, removing obstacles like dog toys from view, and moving decorative accents around, before returning like salmon to where we’d begun: the living room, where we could also open and close shutters and large shades as we needed, to accommodate the mercurial sun. And congratulations for making it through that paragraph posing as a sentence.
As the countdown to logging-in for the interview approached, the sky clouded; the air began to mist in a sky of black ink, and the wind whipped through the gardens and trees, pulling dancing leaves in her wake. I fully expected to glance out and see Margaret Hamilton pedaling by with Toto in her bicycle basket. However, the interview was accomplished and enjoyable. Peace. Quiet.
And then, faster than we could react, tornadic straight-line winds ripped through the backyard and tore at everything in their path, twisting the stationary metal support for the canopy over the deck, and shredding the canopy itself. In under 30 seconds, things collapsed. Regretful and rueful; we knew we should have acted sooner.
16 years ago today, I took my mother to her first dialysis session. She’d moved in with us a month earlier, with high hopes of finding a new home and enjoying herself after 13 years of caring for my father following his massive stroke. That first month was filled with doctor appointments to follow-up on those she’d already begun before she’d moved. My mother was a profoundly lovely and intelligent woman who was capable of absolute denial when issues in life disturbed her.
She had already been diagnosed with heart disease that could lead to kidney failure, but preferred to disbelieve this diagnosis (which we only learned about much later, reviewing the health records, boxed and stored during the move), and to avoid sharing such information with her children. Because of her heart failure, dialysis was both dangerous and grueling.
Those were agonizing, heartbreaking days, sitting in the clinic and watching her suffer, and then bringing her home, exhausted and beaten, only to see her revive enough within a couple days to repeat the cycle. The memories bring me to tears as quickly as straight-line winds, even after all these years. Things collapsed. Rapidly. My mother died in my arms, in our home, with hospice care, on February 4, only 6 months after moving to our home. I’ll never know if any of her suffering could have been prevented had we faced the diagnosis earlier and worked together to meet and support her healing.
Perhaps you’ve heard of CCD, colony collapse disorder, in part, due to our use of pesticides, that has contributed to the decimation of our honey bee population. The economic impact of CCD is devastating, but the effects on our environment from the loss of these pollinators imperil our existence. Pesticides kill far more than pests. We know this; we’ve known it for years, but the collapse has occurred and continues.
All insects are endangered on Earth, and long before we’ve even discovered the myriad ways they bless and ensure our existence. We keep willfully allowing ourselves and our planet to be poisoned, shaking our heads in dismay, then retreating. Wouldn’t want to cause upset or risk embarrassment or (peaceful) confrontation. Someone else can do it. It’ll be O.K.
In the United States, during a pandemic, while suffering the threats of climate change, our unique, scrappy, and elegant Democracy, once a shining light to those seeking its legal protections and freedoms, is nearing collapse. Many people prefer hiding from this fact. It’s easier to deny, when we’re already under so many other threats assailing us, hourly, daily, and for months. We’d really prefer “someone else” save us, restore peace, summon order, and provide coherent leadership. People are anxious, fearful, and exhausted. Some deny not only what is happening in front of them, but that it could lead to violence and collapse.
Elected men and women we’ve hoped would speak up have cowered and resisted doing so for years, seeming to value their little bits of power over any genuine fealty to the Constitution and our Democracy. They deny the dire warnings calling for them to speak up, demand change, impeach the main source of our deterioration, and restore their honor. History, I think, will not be kind to them, and we’re a long time dead. Centuries–if humans survive that long–will recall their cowardice and shame. So it goes; step by step we make these choices, forge these chains, and write our histories.
What is the proper response in a time so variable and frightening? Hasn’t it always been to speak the truth in love? To act on behalf of the marginalized, the moral imperative, the sacred and beautiful? To name the dangers we face and work together to prevent and abate them? To take risks and reach beyond our grasp in order to preserve what we know to be eternally true and good? It almost certainly involves loss, grief, suffering, and sacrifice, but here we all are to help each other bear what must be borne by decent humans seeking change.
We have to believe we’ve come with the gifts to meet the times before us, and admit that, unless we co-create solutions–all of us–the whirlwind will arrive suddenly, as it always does for those in denial, and everything we cherish and love may collapse.
And those who remain will shake their heads and sigh, “Why didn’t we act?”
Earlier this week, I sensed a change in the weather. The forecast for the evenings ahead danced around freezing temperatures, but then indicated a typical return to warmer nights. I decided to bring all my sweet houseplants in, anyway. It did freeze, but they are safe and warm indoors. Not collapsed, but thriving.
Vote. Encourage others to vote, and help them do so, safely.
Be safe and well, and gentle peace.
“In his 2007 bestseller, Collapse, anthropologist Jared Diamond…explored the trajectories of a number of human civilizations that disappeared at the height of their vibrancy and power. Diamond’s examples included the Anasazi of the American southwest, the Maya, and the Norse colony on Greenland.
In each case, the civilization overshot the carrying capacity of its environment. Their populations grew as the society became ever more ingenious at extracting resources from its surroundings. Eventually, the limits to growth were hit. A short time after running into those limits, each civilization fell apart.” ~ Adam Frank
“It is common knowledge now that we depend on insects for our continued existence; that, without key pollinators, the human population would collapse in less than a decade.” ~ John Burnside
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” ~ E.O. Wilson
“Our society is dependent on some precarious mechanisms, and they are very dicey. They can easily collapse.” ~ Doris Lessing
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