“All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” These words posted on the gates of hell in Dante’s Inferno have an eerie resonance in our time.
Marie Cartier recently posted a blog on children and hunger with facts so devastating I could not finish reading it. Earlier in the month Jassy Watson wrote about her deep feelings of grief on hearing Luisah Teish’s “Prayer for Disappearing Species.” Grief, despair, and sadness about the injustices in our world can be overwhelming.
A friend of mine has recently fallen into a deep depression. When I try to talk her out of it, she repeats that they are threatening to cut down the last remaining old growth forest in her home state of Oregon and that she can no longer eat fish because radioactivity released in the Fukishima nuclear plant disaster is reaching the seacoast of Oregon.
When I tell my friend she should not dwell only on these things and that she must remember that the world is still a beautiful place, she responds, “I do not want to give up my feelings. I know I must find a way to acknowledge my sadness and make a place for joy, but I don’t know how to do it.”
I have been in the grip of deep grief about the planet myself, not once but many times. But this happens less frequently than it used to. When I think about the differences between how I once felt and how I feel now, I think the difference is that I have come to terms with and accepted the likelihood that “the world as we know it” is “going to hell in a handbasket”—as I put it.
I believe that the most likely conclusion of the choices human beings are making on planet earth today is massive environmental destruction leading to great suffering and probable extinction for human and many other species on planet earth. This is what I believe, but I also remind myself that I cannot know for sure. The earth and its species including human beings may have resources of resistance and survival, transformation and adaptation,that I do not know about and cannot imagine.
When I began to accept that the world I know and love (where spring follows winter, where birds sing, and where there is hope that injustice can be rectified) may not exist in the very near future, I had an astonishing insight. The death of the world I know and love will not mean the death of our planet or the end of the evolution of the universe.
Thinking about the disappearance of species and the death of human beings from starvation often feels too much to bear. None of this should be happening. Still, it can be strangely comforting to remind myself that the world I love is not the only possible world. There have been other worlds on this very planet—the time when the first cells were formed, the time of the dinosaurs, and many others. Evolution will continue on planet earth for several billion more years, and when our sun burns out, other suns will most likely still be shining in the universe.
This insight was followed by another. The reason for hope is not the conviction that we will be able to save the world we love. The reason for hope—and the reason to keep trying to save our world—is the deep knowing that it is right to try. Even if we cannot save the world we love for all time, we can savor the gift of life, and we can continue to try to create a world in which the gift of life is shared widely today and tomorrow.
I have written many times that we must learn to love a life that ends in death. I was speaking about accepting that each one of us will surely die. I do not fear death. Overcoming this fear has opened me to a greater and more clear-sighted love for life.
Can we learn to love life while accepting that the world we love may be dying? Can we continue to work to improve the conditions of life for individuals and species knowing that the world as we love it may not survive? Do we have any other choice?
For me the hope that can trump despair in our time begins in gratitude for a life that has been given to us, a life that has come down to us through the generations, and through billions of years of the evolutionary process on our planet.
Let us bless the Source of Life.
Let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration.
Let us turn back from despair.
Let us embrace the gift of life and share it with as many others as possible in the new year.
Carol P. Christ learned to be grateful for the gift of life in Crete on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete she leads through Ariadne Institute. It is not too early to sign up for the spring or fall pilgrimages for 2014. Carol can be heard on a WATER Teleconference. Carol’s books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. She wishes you great joy in the new year.