Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
This post is about being a part of something greater than yourself, than all of us, benefiting us all, and benefiting yourself — one of the great feelings and experiences available to humans.
I happened to read four documents around the same time that illuminated each other and our attitudes toward acting on the environment. Our complacency in the face of a danger threatening many times more lives than Hitler is all the more glaring when compared to the honor and service of the men who defended the free world storming Normandy.
The documents were
- ‘I count myself lucky’: D-day remembered on the 75th anniversary, a compilation of interviews of D-Day survivors in The Guardian
- The Uninhabitable Earth, a book describing the consequences of global warming, to say nothing of plastics, mercury, extinctions, and other environmental consequences
- If Seeing the World Helps Ruin It, Should We Stay Home?, a silly account of selfish mental gymnastics for how to deny responsibility for contributing to global warming
- An email exchange with a friend abandoning a plan to avoid flying, instead planning to fly to India
A Man Who Landed at Sword Beach, Normandy
From the Guardian article
Chelsea pensioner Frank Mouqué, 94, was a corporal in the Royal Engineers who landed on Sword beach and whose job was to dispose of bombs on a stretch of land beyond the parapet next to the beach.
“We approached Sword beach in a landing craft. We had all of our gear on our backs and a rubber ring around our stomach to help keep us afloat. Let’s face it, the landing was very gory. You didn’t have time to think, survival instinct kicked in,” he said in his account published on the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s website.
“After reaching the beach, I ran up towards a parapet, and searched for mines. After 12 hours of being on the go we were exhausted and then had to dig a foxhole to sleep in. We had to dig six foot down and two foot wide.
“I slept outside for the next year or so, we had no protection from the elements. We had an oversized gas cape to go over our clothes and all our gear. We rarely slept lying down. Each time we slept in a barn we were ravaged by fleas – so even that was no good.
“It was a different time: I wasn’t a hero, I was a little cog in a big wheel. When you add all those little cogs together – then we became important. We all worked together towards peace.”
A Woman Who Supported the Normandy Soldiers from London
From the Guardian article
“We knew something big was afoot because there was an armada of boats in Portsmouth harbour. That was a giveaway.
“The VHF radio was a one-way system. When you raised your lever to transmit, the recipient couldn’t make any interjections until you had finished, and said: ‘Roger and out.’ or whatever. Then they would raise their lever, and transmit their message”.
On D-day she was in direct contact with the wireless operators on the allied invasion fleet as they stormed the beaches.
“When they raised their lever, I could hear very loud, sustained gunfire. It was really so bad that you thought: ‘Oh my God. There’s a battle going on.’ You knew. You thought: ‘God, men are dying.’ The reality suddenly hit you. For a rather naive 17-year-old, I think it was terrifying. But it was a job. You got on with it.
“The messages were all in code, so you didn’t know what was being said. But you could hear the gunfire, every time the lever was lifted. I’ve never forgotten what I heard. Never.”
What the Earth Will Likely Look Like
I’m not going to copy the sections of the book I quote, but here’s the long article its author, David Wallace-Wells, wrote that prompted the book, The Uninhabitable Earth,,Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.
From Avoiding Flying for a Year to “But I Want to Go”
Here are the passages from my email exchange.
An excerpt from a friend who had stated intent to avoid flying for a year:
I’m still investigating traveling to India via boat but so far, it seems to be very expensive (even on a freighter that accepts passengers) and not safe for single female travelers-my partner does not want to travel anymore so she’s not flying as much as she used to. Most crew on freighters are men and the trip takes a month.
An excerpt from my response:
I don’t understand how people can separate their actions from the front-page environmental news. How they can see pictures of, say, the air in New Delhi and not connect that they are polluting thousands of times more than the average person there. I’m surprised at how easily they can dismiss consequences they don’t actually see.
Anyway, let me know if I can support you. I didn’t write the above about you but because you’re one of the few people I can share such thoughts with who I think wouldn’t take it personally but might also think about it.
One thing that might help regarding India. North America is a stunningly beautiful, diverse land with equally beautiful and diverse people. No one could possibly sample it all in a lifetime. For whatever India offers, there’s just as much unknown a train ride away. Before I sail to Europe, it looks like I’ll sail to Mexico, Puerto Rico, or places near Florida, and probably at almost no cost, using Findacrew.net, where I’ve met friendly people offering spaces on their boats, though I haven’t taken them up yet.
If I always think of what I’m missing, I’ll never be satisfied. If I enjoy what I have, I’ll always feel joy.
An excerpt of her response to mine:
Hey Josh– I hear you. Unfortunately, the research I’m doing in India is really important to me. I was invited to go back to India after last year’s visit. I am doing my activist affordable housing work in my own city and doing much more walking to get places.
While it’s easy to contrast the service and honor with our behavior today, concluding that we are acting with the opposite, which I guess would be selfishness and dishonorably, I see something different, focusing on the man’s statement,
“I wasn’t a hero, I was a little cog in a big wheel. When you add all those little cogs together – then we became important. We all worked together towards peace.”
Our inaction on our environmental values robs us of our potential to transform ourselves from cogs who aren’t heroes to becoming important, to work together toward peace.
The opportunity of acting on our environmental values—which I have felt in picking up other people’s garbage daily, creating community, meaning and purpose without the distraction of flying, discovering the deliciousness of nature by avoiding packaged food, and so on—is to be a part of and contribute to something greater than ourselves.
We as a species will suffer from the ignorant behavior of our parents and our tragically informed but complacent behavior, but whatever disaster awaits us, we can ameliorate it. There are degrees of disaster, differences between a billion unnecessary deaths and five billion.
The difference may come through arbitrary accidents of how nature unfolds or it may come from our acting together.
The opportunity is for all of us to act as part of something greater than any of us or even all of us—one of the great feelings humans can experience—helping all of us and helping ourselves.
We did it at Normandy 75 years ago. I can’t wondering if the greatest legacy of the under-appreciated defenders of the free world might be to show how we can team up under adversity and become like brothers and sisters. Men risked their lives and died in that endeavor.
All we need to do is replace flying with enjoying the area around our homes, as people have done since humans became sapiens, to lay off the air conditioning, to eat what food we buy and not let it spoil, to favor broccoli over Hot Pockets and beef.
The greatest joy humans can experience versus throwing away another coffee cup every day. How is that choice not obvious?
Why not make it for yourself once and for all?