I talked to a woman a generation older than me. She told me how she and her husband agreed that they were glad to have lived full lives before humanity faced the environmental tragedies she considers inevitable.
Many people have done that calculation where they hear when our situation will get catastrophic. I did it at least a decade ago, when I first read the prediction that there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. I calculated I’d be 79.
People around my age and older concluded, “that situation sounds bad, but I’ll be pretty old, so not for me, but it will be bad for someone. I hope they solve it.” Already, that conclusion is sad, or would be when they think about it. Has there been a time in history when people preferred dying to living longer? Maybe during the Black Plague?
People younger than me and, for that matter, people my age as it dawns on everyone, see that if we don’t change course dramatically and fast, we will face catastrophe.
Her truly saddening, pathetic part
The truly sad, pathetic part was what she added after. She added, “my generation really caused these problems” but she didn’t add: “so I’ll take responsibility for my actions and do everything I can to restore some semblance of Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You or Leave It Better Than You Found It or Live and Let Live.”
When I grew up, this country stood for personal responsibility to live by values like those three, also known as the Golden Rule, Stewardship, and Common Decency. Apparently we’ve replaced them with abdication, capitulation, and resignation. And comfort and convenience. Not just her, much of the country and world.
I say pathetic not as an insult, but in the sense of evoking pathos; compassion, empathy, and sympathy, maybe some pity to have so little to live for, just her own comfort and convenience.
Yes, pollution emitted for the past few generations will wreak havoc for generations to come no matter what we do, but I see no greater path to meaning and purpose in anyone’s life than to do all we can to reverse course. Disaster is not binary. There are levels of disaster. I’ve seen predictions of one to two billion climate refugees by 2100. That’s a difference of a billion people whose lives we could improve!
An Antidote: Harriet Tubman
I came across a quote from Harriet Tubman I loved that applies here. She was born into slavery, escaped and rescued 70 enslaved people over 13 missions through the Underground Railroad. In the Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy. Did she say to people she helped escape, “if things get tough, give up”? No, she said:
If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
I’m glad I have something to live for and am not hoping to die soon.
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