The Earth, the Gulf Disaster, and Coping with Death
Article ID: 14007
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,410
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Posted: June 13th. 2010
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When I first heard about the BP oil spill, it was on Facebook. It had already been a couple of weeks since the spill happened. One of my friends had posted as her status, “Every time I hear about the spill in the Gulf, I cry…” Confused, I searched Google and read the blog posts, the newspaper articles, and saw the pictures.
And I was too appalled to even cry.
See, whenever I’m scared, I know I’m scared because the back of my head feels cold and almost as if there’s too much nothingness there. My breath comes short and it’s the most terrible feeling in the world. And when I read all of that, that feeling hit me hard. I began picturing the oil killing all the plankton and other sea life, destroying all of the oceans. And we all know what that means: no ocean, no life on earth.
There’s a lot about the environment and what we’re doing to it that scares the hell out of me. Since the Industrial Revolution began, we’ve ravaged the earth to the point that I don’t even want to go into my own backyard anymore. Even Michael Jackson said, “We’ve only got four years to fix this, or it becomes irreversible.”
Being the follower of a path that reveres nature and knows that without it, there’s no us, it’s a big deal for me not to even go in to my own backyard because I’m frightened of the damage I’m seeing there. I’ve grown up in that forest. In fact, a small section of that forest was in fact the very center of my spirituality. After not going there this winter, I went there a few weeks ago when the snow finally cleared.
What did I see there? Trees cut down, trash thrown in a few places. The little pond near it was polluted with some substance I don’t even want to try and identify. And then there’s the new neighbors, who are cutting down the trees and tearing up the ground to build their new house, because “they need a home, too, ” even though there’s a perfectly nice house down the road that’s for sale for cheap.
All that’s happening to the world scares the crap out of me. What do I want my future to be? I want to go to college for ten years and become an art therapist. I want to have five kids and live in a big cabin in the middle of the mountains or next to the ocean. I want to meet The One and spend the rest of my life with them. I want to change the world. But with the way the world is going right now, there may not be a world for me to even change. Who needs 2012 when we’re creating our own end?
But I’m being pessimistic. I didn’t want to write this to choke out my own sorrows about how sh*tty life is—actually, compared to everyone else, my life is really damn good. I live in a great house, in a beautiful town next to the ocean and some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, I have a great family—my parents are still together and still love each other to death. That’s a big thing, because all of my friend’s parents are either divorced or at least squabbling.
What I wanted to write about is me coming to terms with death, and what it is.
I’ve done a lot to convince myself that reincarnation is a fact, a reality. It’s not that it makes sense—though it certainly does—it’s that it’s so filled with hope. It’s the promise that even if this life is hard, there’s always another one. It’s the promise that death isn’t the ultimate end, but another step in life, like puberty, but harder.
But no matter how hard I try to convince myself, I can’t get rid of that feeling.
I might take this time to point out that I absolutely hate spacing out. Why? Because when I space out, I don’t think, I don’t feel, I can’t even see what’s in front of me. There’s this intense nothingness that settles down on me, as if I’m not there. As if I’m not anywhere. And then there’s some noise that jolts me out of that state, and it shakes me up. That nothingness makes me fear if reincarnation is real. It’s the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, the atheists are right: there really is nothing after death. We’re just rotting in the ground; we’re just gone.
Sometimes I love that feeling, because sometimes there’s not so much nothingness as a feeling of absolutely connection to the energies around me, something that can’t be explained with any language or art. But I digress.
Every so often I think, hey, I actually kind of want to experience death. Except without the whole never-coming-back-to-life thing. But of course, that’s impossible. If you die, you die. Unless you have a near-death experience. But even then, that’s not real death, that’s just near-death.
But then there are those other times I want nothing more than to not think about death, not see it, not hear about it, not even read it in a fictional novel or in a movie. It’s those times I just want to hop on my bike and bike thousands of miles, no stopping, not thinking, not feeling: just seeing, just experiencing, just being a disconnected observer.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks and feels these things. I was just thinking a few moments before I began to write this, that perhaps we shouldn’t push those thoughts away or even embrace them. We should just acknowledge it with a little nod and let it pass by, like you do when noticing someone on the street that you think you may know but you decide you don’t need to worry about it and forget about them soon enough.
The thought of death will always be there, touching the back of your mind, letting you know you’re not invincible, but you shouldn’t be ashamed to be mortal. You shouldn’t dwell on it. Just change the world while you can.
Do what Ms. Rumphius did: visit faraway lands, live by the sea, and do something to make the world a more beautiful place.
Perhaps I’m a hypocrite. But who isn’t these days? We sit on our couches, eating potato chips and texting, complaining about the state of the world, not acknowledging our part in the terror.
Obviously we’re all still learning. It’s hard to break old habits. But with the disaster in the Gulf, many, if not most, of us are opening our eyes and, for the first time, taking action. Because even if some of us don’t care about nature, we do care about our own lives and the lives of our loved ones, and if protecting our survival means protecting the environment, we’re sure enough going to do it.
R. Buckminster Fuller once said, “Pollution is nothing but resources we’re not harvesting.” Keep that in mind next time you want to throw away that candy wrapper or ironing board. Ever heard of up-cycling? It’s a ton of fun!
(Wow, I wanted this to be an essay about coping with death, but somehow I manage to talk about environmentalism instead…but perhaps they can be connected.)
Have a wonderful week, everyone, and remember to acknowledge death, but don’t dwell.
R. Buckminster Fuller
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Location: Paia, Hawaii
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