Often with April's arrival, I think of the refrain repeated by a Buddhist monk in his talk about what should be the root of impartial compassion: our awareness that "The Earth is our Mother." All share the same Mother. My thoughts on Earth Day 2011 lead me to a walker in space, a bartender at the beach, and a child in a third grade classroom. Let's celebrate Earth Day with simple reflection on this trio's wisdom.
In 1969 Russell Schweickart took a forty-seven minute stroll in space. His witnessing of the earth's vulnerability and its magnificence from this perspective transformed him, and his reflections are reported in the February 28, 2011 issue of "The New Yorker" in an article written by Tad Friend. Feel your chest fill with Schweickart's emotion as he stared at our planet: "It is so small and so fragile and such a precious little spot in that universe that you can block it out with your thumb. And you realize that on that small spot, that little blue-and-white thing, is everything that means anything to you - all of history and music and poetry and art and death and birth and love.... My prior inclination toward environmentalism was dramatically amplified - my environment now became the planet." And I think.... Isn't it a stunning realization that everything IS in our own back yard? The word "environment" is itself derived from the French "environs," with its connotation of a space in which to turn around. That one space is this one Earth. Everything turns in one place.
My cousin and I sat gazing at the ocean last week on a cool spring evening on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; our observation perch was on the deck of a restaurant as we waited for our take-out order. The busy bartender/server seemed so at home, so in his element, that I asked him if he were a native. His smiling response: "Of the planet, yes." Ah.... He was born and still lives in a tiny coastal town, and that town, just like every town, is located at his Home address, Planet Earth. All is native here.
Child philosophers worry about environmental issues, and I listen as they stew over the Earth's scream of "enough" and I search with them for meaningful ways to respond. A conversation over several weeks with one third grade group stands out. While we were discussing pollution of many kinds, a thinning ozone layer, global warming, and ocean calcification, the children found flaws with every "solution" proposed by a classmate. Suddenly, Ashley shot straight up from her cross-legged seat on the floor and announced: "I've got it! The next time I go into a store, go any place, I'm going to ask myself and my parents and really maybe everyone ‘Do I really need that?' Then, well, don't you see?" The gas station, the electronics store, the clothes outlets, the toy shop, the furniture retailer.... Yes, Ashley, I see. Conservation works one step, one person at a time, and if everyone walks in sync, using only what they need, then, slowly....
Happy Earth Day. Let's all join Ashley and deliberately NOT do something today.
Photo credit to: Nasa Apollo Mission in 1972
Marietta McCarty is the author of Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy With Kids and How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most.