Don’t Look Up: Late Night Thoughts on the 12th Day of Christmas
Greetings, friends and fellow travelers — and happy Epiphany (especiall to those of you across all traditions who keep looking up, guided by wonder, light, and beauty, even while moving through grief, terror, and gripping uncertainty).
I aim for this to be a short post — for it’s late at night, even if I’m wide awake in awareness of the passing of a year since the atrotrious act of white supremacist terror on the grounds of the United States Capitol, and the precariousness of our present moment. The past 12 days of Christmas have been so full of love, connection, and blessings in my personal life, yet they have brought heart-breaking devastation for those around me, especially here in Denver , CO — including the mass shooting in Denver and Lakewood, CO on December 27 (the 687th mass shooting in America this year), the most destructive fires in Colorado’s history in Boulder County, and the staggering surge in COVID19 infections and hospitalizations.
A year ago today, shaken by the news of the Insurrection and seeking guidance and grounding for a more actively hopeful 2021, I sat down with a new set of water color pencils and began to draw. For a week or so, I’d been consumed by a collaborative writing project with a deadline on the 6th — so I was already deep in thought about the kinds of collective power we’d need to unleash together, if we were to spring forward from the devastation of 2020 toward a future of climate justice and resilience for all. My collaborators and I had also begun visualizing a “compass” of nine collective powers to help us navigate our pathways forward. But there was something so refreshingly satisfying about that afternoon, surrendering to the delight of the high color-saturation of the pencils, focusing my attention on the page, called by my desire for beauty, light, and truer sources of power. With pencil gliding over paper, I felt my love and hope for our world move through me. When I finished, the sense of peace and joy I felt looking at it took my by surprise. I kept the watercolor book open and propped up at my desk so I could see it, and feel that burst of light and hope.
In the year since, at the encouragement of my beloved husband and the support of an exceptionally kind and talented friend, I transformed the watercolor drawing into a graphic, and then a sticker that I shared with a host of amazing fellow travellers I met while traversing the Colorado Trail this summer. This Compass of Collective Powers was a constant companion with me in 2021 —not only did its vibrant colors lift my spirt, it also called my into a disciplined practice of integrity, reciprocity, and liberty that energized my daily life and work. My year was so much fuller for that practice, and I’m grateful.
Still, entering into 2022, I find I’m having a hard time facing reality (or as Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone have put it, “facing the mess we’re in without going crazy”). It’s all just looked bleak. To compound the matter, after a long drive across the country back to Denver, I woke up at 5:30 on New Years Day and proceeded to watch “Don’t Look Up.”
POW! That star-studded hollywood hit sure packs a punch. All the feelings. Before I even got up to the bathroom, I got a good look at myself and my culture in the mirror. It was not pretty. Even those of us who’ve been aware of the data and the catastrophic predictions (for the past 50 years!) are so addicted to our comfort, convenience, and unearned privilege that we resist making the changes we need to live the dreams that most deeply inspire us. I know this is true for me, even as I find myself pointing fingers at those whose transgressions are more egregious than my own. Even as I laughed, darkly, at the characters on the screen, I could feel myself starting to slip into a familiar state of deep cynicism and resignation. Born through my participation in late 1990s environmentalism (and my studies of economics), that state of ennui and futility came free of charge with acceptance of the view that human beings are irredeemably selfish parasites, and the human race deserves extinction. It’s all to easy to buy into that story. It’s seductive. Cynicism and futility absolves me and others from responsiblity for action— even actions aligned with my true self-interest, our dreams, and the greater good.
Turning to the Wise Ones
“You can lie to anyone in the world and even get away with it, perhaps, but when you are alone and look into your own eyes in the mirror, you can’t sidestep the truth. Always be sure you can meet those eyes directly. Otherwise, it’s big trouble, my girl.” — Betty White
“Keep the other person’s well being in mind when you feel an attack of soul-purging truth coming on.” — Betty White
“You don’t luck into integrity. You work at it.” — Betty White
“There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative — not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew.”— Desmond Tutu, Recovering From Apartheid
One of the mantras or meditations I’ve had over the years about privilege is, “what to do with it”? One, you can use it to help others. That’s what I do in the business form. People come here, I help boost their career to the point where they have financial stability. Or I give away money to the charities we care about. Teaching, teaching women, empowering women. That type of stuff is what you do if you have a benefit. But, really, you live a life of integrity. That’s what you do. You don’t fuck it up. You use every moment and every possible resource you have to set it up with someone who needs it. You do it with the kind of seriousness that it takes, so that other people respect it as much as you do. So that when you say, “hey, you should sit with your privilege,” they don’t lash back. They actually understand what it means.” — Alicia Cardenos
“We choose to heal and we choose to move forward by being brave and vulnerable enough to heal.” — Desmond Tutu, Learning to Feel and Learning to Forgive