The El Nino that is in large part driving our weather is also bringing extreme heat, drought, and brush fires to Australia. This morning in Quaker meeting, amidst the focus on Iran and Iraq, someone stood up and spoke to the suffering brought on by the fires. I also had been thinking about the infernos and the terrible loss of habitat, livelihood, and lives they have brought, along with what for me remains unimaginable, the likely extinction of many species endemic to the burned regions.
As I sat in Meeting I found myself reaching for the still point between whatever wisdom may arise from placing this moment in the longer view of life on Earth, and the very human heartbreak that arises within me in response to our collective madness. In the long view our wars, our willingness to create environmental disaster, and our refusal to treat everyone with simple kindness are insubstantial and fleeting. On the human level, they are immediate, profoundly harmful, and bring immense suffering into the lives of many.
Both views are correct but limited. Somewhere in the space between our human view and the long view is a place of wisdom where we can hold both, if only intermittently. In that place we may see that while nothing we do is all that important in the long life of the planet, we can still do much that matters in the lives of other living beings. When we lose sight of either end of the spectrum we are want to do very much harm indeed.
Just as it can be very difficult for us to place ourselves within the planet’s long time frame, it can be challenging to find empathy for places and people far away. The other night we were having dinner with friends who spoke about the Antisemitism that is raging in our country right now, and mourned the loss of safety and belonging they had long felt. They spoke freely, knowing we are a Jewish family but forgetting that I am disabled and my side of the family identities as Native. Clearly, the long list of us for whom it has never been safe was largely invisible to them until we pointed out the omissions.
They are good people whose empathy failed, a condition all of us experience from time to time. Surely they are correct that at the moment empathy, kindness, and the long view all seem in short supply.
As I sit with all this, I am reminded we can only do our best with the resources we have. For right now, my heart and prayers go out to all, human and other, who are in harm’s way, especially those who face the Australian infernos. My prayers, and gratitude also go out to Pachamama, for she holds us all with concern and without judgement. I desperately want to do more than send money, money being problematic. For right now, when it is difficult to know what actions may be truly helpful, heart and prayers must be enough.