It's Your Planet, You Can Cry if You Want To
A Post About Climate Change & Grief (Plus, Perhaps a Smidge of Hope).
A few disclaimers at the start of this potentially polarizing topic:
If I'm at risk of losing you at "climate change," please keep reading. Someone I was once very close to used to grumble that we initially called it "global warming,"then changed the wording when it no longer applied. They seethed about Al Gore and his massive mansion, hypocritically warning the world about an inconvenient truth. I don't share that perspective (well, he has a point about Gore), and it was still important to hear. I try to find some wisdom in each voice at the table, and hope you'll see if you can recognize some in mine.
For those for whom strong emotion––grief in particular––is scarier than volatile weather, I tenderly extend this post as an offering of permission, perspective and perhaps a smidge of hope.
In case it's the "hope" that turns you off, just hear me out, call me out, and we can hash this out together. I don't want to stumble blindly into a field of naive dreams, but I'm also not quite ready to say Game Over.
Caveats aside? Well then, it must be game on.
I've been wanting to write on this topic for a long time, and though it's big enough to easily bite off more than can be chewed, the whole angle I've been wanting to take is one that breaks things down into nice, manageable pieces. So with that in mind, in bite-sized doses, we'll proceed.
I can't recall what originally seeded the idea in my mind, if it was watching Seaspiracy––an action-inspiring (apparently controversial) documentary about the devastation of our oceans leading ultimately to planetary demise if unaddressed, or if it was living in inescapable, suffocating smoke that's become commonplace for California summers. As I search my memory, I realize it must have been after/upon visiting two trusted women independently, and witnessing their unique and timely approach to combat recent change. Let's start with, "Lucid": Upon learning the water supply in her home county of decades is down to one year of clean water for residents, she jumped on the all-too-empty bandwagon of extreme water conservation, saving not only"warm-up water" from showers, but catching every last drop of dish, hand, and produce-washing water used in her home. These precious catchments are then carefully distributed throughout her three tiered garden, still gorgeous, yet eerily evolving under the dire circumstances of the state. We participated in the effort, and I won an imaginary prize for least water used during hair-washing ever. Small victories...!
Next, "Flora,"who thankfully has no trouble keeping her garden green, due to persistent moisture of the Northern California coast: When we arrived as guests to her brightly lit home, unpacking goodies and treats from our drive, it took mere moments to learn she is doing to her best to avoid consumption of anything wrapped in plastic. Graced by a community supporting her cause, and an excellent Co-op to back it, she is able to purchase food, cleaning and bath products in bulk, and refill and use previously purchased packaging.
Seeing these ladies, both so strong and influential in my life, take such care to make a difference–not to mention the intensity and commitment behind their causes–was striking in every sense of the word: impactful, painful, and inspiring.
Still now on my reverse mental journey, I recall yet another event that precipitated this years' next-level-awakening to our changing world: I was lucky enough to revisit a farm I've enjoyed for a few weeks most summers, going back for several years. Highlights of the trip usually include refreshing outings to the river, and lounging on acres of green grass, garden and orchard.
Hit hard firstly by the 2019 fire season, including mandatory evacuations, followed by Covid and a season of shutdown, the farm revived itself somewhat with a partial reopening in 2021; and has managed to retain its sweet charm. While an undeniable blessing to return to this place, a haven for families and friends, the farm's greenery has dwindled in accordance with the times, and the river beneath was bug infested, green with algae, shallow, and warm as bathwater–hardly the respite from heat we've been used to.
There's a little voice nudging me now, asking if I am being too negative or a downer? Despite the [fading yet] familiar refrain of questioning my emotional intensity, I don't actually think... and I may be wrong here... I don't think I'm portraying any of this in a particularly emotional manner. I'm conveying the impressions as objectively as I can. It's just... they were, legit, INTENSE.
I guess that leads us naturally to the next part of our topic today, our old, dear, friend, Grief. I keep having the urge to capitalize "grief," and I'm tired of resisting it, so I think I will for the rest of the post, at least. Why not personify and show respect to this process, so inherent to the human condition it's earned its own utterance, "Good Grief!"?
Personally, it's nice to see myself literally befriending Grief. It's been a steady companion, with much more complexity than its oft given credit for, like a loyal pet reduced to fur and feeding. No, Grief is nuanced, multi-faceted and broad enough to contain an expanse of experiences so distinct Elizabeth Kübler-Ross gave them stages and names, with an acronym to help remember them...:
And I'd like to add a final "A," if I may, without altering the sound or essence of our mnemonic:
So, there you have it: DABDAA.
I doubt it's really necessary for me spell out for you how the stages of Grief might play out in regard to climate change. It's a helluva lot easier than spelling mnemonic, of that much I'm sure. But here, I'll give it a little go anyway; then we'll get to my addition of Action, and the smidge o' hope part I lured some of you in with from the get-go.
Without even getting into science, statistics, timelines, temperatures, mass extinctions or excursions to Mars, it's relatively easy to see that our climate is changing, in my lifetime, probably yours, and certainly within our parents'. Yet, some still fervently deny it. And, there you have it! Phase 1, Grief: Denial.
(Let us insert a note here that these stages are not sequential, nor are they necessarily complete once one has moved on. They are cyclical, swapable, and as I tried before to kindly put it, they're rather loyal til the end).
A for Anger is as obvious as Denial. I know many of us are experiencing this, at times to a maddening degree––towards ourselves, our forefathers, our climate-change-denying brethren. The most extreme manifestation of Anger I've seen looks something like misanthropy–hatred of humankind. I have a different perspective on this, how humans are part of nature too, therefore cannot inherently destroy it; better yet, how we are on a developmental journey as a species much like that we're on individually as we mature––but these thoughts are too long-winded for today, so I'll share instead how this misanthropic take generally makes me feel (I say "generally" purposefully; I have my days of Anger at humanity, too, don't you worry): This perspective makes me incredibly sad. Which, in the language of DABDA I suppose would be Depressed. (I'm so glad I'm skipping Bargaining, btdubs, not only because it's the hardest for me to define, but because now I get to model my point that these stages do not necessarily go in order). In contrast to the abstractness of Bargaining, Depression at this point is pretty darn tangible in most of our lives. What are the number one and two reasons people seek therapy these days? "Anxiety and Depression"––and I'm perfectly confident stating that without a single footnote to back me.
Depression is the part of Grief that perhaps threatens most to take us hostage, and hold us down. It threatens to suffocate us like the nearest fires' smoke, not as damaging as the fire, yet causing immense difficulty after prolonged exposure. Depression is where tears, fatigue, and lethargy thrive. It's the land of hopeless, exhaustion and despair.
Somehow, it's also a fertile soil from which we can sprout sweet goodness. At least, I hope so, and yes, I know so... but I'm simultaneously stating and questioning my perspective, because doubt gets along remarkably well with Depression, too; and I'll admit to having been in a bit of a depressed state all day. . My not-as-young-as-he-once-was Dad contracted Covid this week (although he's vaccinated and doing OK), and I've been heavily exposed. Between quarantining all weekend until I can determine my own status and standing by for Dad in case he needs a helping hand––but not so close as to risk unnecessary spread, I was feeling burdened and blocked, and may not have made it to my blog without the support of a trusted friend.
I'm aware this all might be TMI, as your therapist, potential therapist, or therapist-person-you-sometimes-follow-online; but I'm sharing because the days of blank-slate-therapists had better be over, or I'm out! And because this situation is so not unique. I know each and every one of you has been in one similar, better, hopefully not worse.
Did I mention we're trapped inside?!? Not just because of Covid, no, no–because of the purple air blanket of smoke we've been sweating under for days!! Annd, a teensy taste of my anger emerges, even as I realize the relative and immense privilege of my circumstances.
The last and final Kübler-Ross stage of Grief is Acceptance, as you already know (yep; I skipped Bargaining altogether! I'm currently busy Bargaining with Bargaining in the background, pleading with it to get lost!). Acceptance is the part where we finally acknowledge and find peace with what is. We can tell our story without getting pulled into the pain, and move forward toward a future not consumed by our past. This is the part where we shift into Action, and possibly, Hope. (Why not make all our good friends proper, hm?).
After two weeks of traveling around my home state California, visiting family, friends, and farms, upon watching inciting documentaries (again, Seaspiracy) and inspiring ones (I cannot recommend Kiss the Ground enough!), I started moving into action. I've cut out seafood almost entirely, reduced meat-consumption to roughly once a week and counting, distributed our all-but-abandoned compost pile throughout our yard, hauled fire-inviting heaps of needles, leaves and boughs safely away; and supported our local nursery buying copious carloads of carbon-producing plants, which I've distributed throughout the yard, and more... (and all this before the worst of the smoke, thank GOODNESS!).
Do you wanna know my favorites? I've been replenishing the birdbaths with fresh water daily, for the diverse populations of native birds (and squirrels), and filling the feeders Dad originally hung; and I've added two gorgeous, hand-blown glass, hummingbird feeders to the front yard and back, where their shimmering jewel-toned heads gleam in the––albeit smoke-obscured––sunlight, bringing beauty, glory and LIFE back into these seemingly dark times...
Each of these actions, however large or small (why not add newfound blog-consistency to the mix?) have served to place a blanket of peace over any emerging buds of Acceptance. Our planet is changing, no doubt, and there are a million ways to orient to that reality. My advice? As much as you can, embrace the process of Grief. Swim through Denial, summon your righteous Anger, dip into Depression, and banter with Bargaining, seeing if you can't broker a deal...
You know just as I thought I was finishing up, I realized, with my mental block around Bargaining, it's possible that's actually right where I am (insert bug-eye emoji). I say this for the wisest of readers, because for others (ehem), I might have had us almost convinced that I'd come up with an answer, or some way out! Instead, seems my contribution of "Action" wasn't so novel after all, but a simple manifestation of Bargaining all along.
Then again, maybe that's the whole point. No matter what we call it, as long as we keep moving through it, we won't get stuck, not in outdated perspectives nor hopeless despair. Except... we might be "stuck" with Grief. It must be expediently clear by now that she's not going anywhere. So, Imma keep learning to love her, keep on trying to listen to her, and do my best to remember Acceptance is also a part of her. It ain't all bad, promise! And as always, you're not alone.
(I'm signing this one...!)