Before my divorce, reconciliation, and remarriage
to my husband, I was a science writer with two degrees in biology. While we’d been divorced I’d been working for the Joint Fire Science Program turning primary research on fire ecology into digestible articles for wildland managers and planners; including the coming impacts of climate change on fire dynamics. And before that I’d written on all manner of earth, biology, and environment-related topics for textbooks, websites, magazines, and radio. I’d also spent time as a science writer at Cornell University’s Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors (BCERF), wrestling with the potential impacts of environmental toxins and hormone mimickers on breast cancer risk.
When my husband (an ecologist, getting his PhD at Cornell) and I married, in Cornell’s Sage Chapel, my co-workers at BCERF joined us. When we discussed having a baby shortly thereafter, we dithered: did we really want to bring children into a world so broken? Maybe it wasn’t so bad.
It was. And it is. While pregnant I read Sandra Steingraber’s “Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood” and confronted the fact that my breast milk was certainly already laced with poisons, and that I’d be downloading those poisons into my baby. As my husband and I left Cornell for other academic opportunities for him, Steingraber arrived at Cornell as a visiting professor with BCERF. Today she's still in upstate New York, calling for a sane, healthy world for her children. She’s so committed that last week she went to jail for protesting fracking on private land. She went to jail! And she's writing, right now, from jail. (Here are a few important words she spoke to Bill Moyers just before that.)
I tell you all this because I’ve been living a kind of double life these last two years of writing Marry, Divorce, Reconcile for Psychology Today. My background and training is in biology and the impact of human activity on the world around us. I’d spent a dozen years writing on all manner of related topics before my husband and I divorced. Then…then…Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional devastation and turmoil of surviving that divorce, of watching my children confront its ramifications, of experiencing the ripping apart of our lives. Looking back on it now, divorce was like a form of exile from the tribe—the safe harbor my husband and I had created was torn asunder.
And once again, it was the science—and my inner journalist’s hunger to understand—that set us on the path back to each other, to not only a reconciliation but a healing that bore us a brand new marriage: far more secure, honest, and authentic than what we’d had before. This includes a pure realization that, because humans are so social, we need other important relationships and people in our lives. We no longer expect or rely on our marriage to meet all our human needs. That, we have learned, is crazy making.
The core understanding—the key—underpinning our reunion and our life together today, is human attachment. Love. For all its Shakespearean dramas, its prophetic songs, its universal storylines, human attachment science—and our ability to consciously abide by what science is helping us to better understand about one of the most basic, elemental motivators of human behavior—explains both our glue and our schisms. Humans are driven by love and attachment. If we are satisfied and healthy in these, harmony prevails. If not, we tend to turn the world upside down. Discord reigns. And suffering.
Humans are among the most social beings ever to walk the earth, and now, the terrible hurts visited on us by a culture that fails to honor our tremendous social needs threatens not only human beings but the rest of life on this planet, and the very climate itself.
Hence my double life.
For better than two-and-a-half years I’ve been posting to MDR, writing these blogs, urgently concerned about helping people see the value of their marriages, the importance to both them and their children of the secure harbor, the tools we now have to help even unhappy, bitter marriages, thrive—tools that come from human attachment science, and help unhappy couples find their bond beneath the rubble of contempt, despair, lousy communication, emotional voids, and anger. Thanks to people like Sue Johnson, the pioneer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and The Gottman’s evidence-based research into what makes marriage work, we are far more able to help couples find the foundation of their bond, and build from it.
But here’s the thing. All that time, I’ve been as troubled as I’ve ever been about the state of the world. More troubled. And my children are troubled… about things that no previous generation of children has ever been troubled by. I write this blog one week after the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Four and a half months after the shootings at Newtown. Not long after a good friend lost her best friend and his ex-wife to gun violence. Seven years after watching my soul sister lose her husband, and the father of her newborn and toddler, to suicide. Today—in the less than fifty years—we’ve lost more human beings to gunfire (homicides and suicides) than to all the wars of United States history.
That bears repeating: Today—in the less than fifty years—we’ve lost more human beings to gunfire than to all the wars of United States history.
Why? And is it a coincidence that during those same fifty years the climate began to change and now threatens to outstrip safe harbor from all the creatures on Earth, including human civilization as we know it?
In those fifty years we’ve also managed to continue to pollute and outright lose our soils; launched the greatest devastation of the world’s fisheries ever known; genetically modified crops to address the colossal use of pesticides and herbicides that farmers mistakenly believe they require to grow food (Farmers, now among the highest groups at risk for suicide, the world over.); initiated a global tide of non-human suffering brought on by industrial agriculture that few can even admit to, let alone, face; stripped the world’s rainforests of their trees; allowed the die off of most coral reefs; watched as the world’s deserts begin to grow at a rate never seen before; seen an accumulation of toxins and garbage in the oceans; and a few other little things like the vanishing of the bees.
Sure, we’ve had gun violence, and munitions violence, since we figured out how to set fuse to plug inside a metal tube, as far back as 1350 AD.
But today, things are different.
Today, we can all have guns if we want them. (That wasn’t true in 1350 AD.) And we all combust fossil fuels, every single minute of every single day. (Neither was that). I’m doing it right now, as I write this blog. These systems are a result of our culture. They are not a result of being human.
And when I say “we,” I’m talking about white people. White culture. European culture. Guns, germs, and steel culture. The culture of domination and conquest. Manifest destiny. Money fest destiny. A culture so steeped in conquest and domination of others and resources, that it routinely fails. It routinely fails to acknowledge the truth, about climate, about the impact of human population size on everything we hold dear, about our interconnection and interdependence with the rest of life on this planet...About the very fact that we have a severe cultural dysfunction that must be faced, or else our children will get garbage instead of grace.
We have lived in cultural denial; and the domination and conquest implicit in our culture too often forgets and ignores the power of love, the love that lies beneath it all. It forgets the great human motivator: bonding and attachment and everything we will do to foster them. This is the love that will be the force for global harmony, should we decide it’s time to move away from domination and conquest, to our human (not cultural) birthrights: compassion, collaboration, creativity, extreme sociability, and harmony. Humans evolved into who we are because of these things. Not despite them.
Climate change is the great leveler. It’s time to admit it. Climate change is so much bigger, so fundamentally different than anything we’ve ever done before, it’s like we’ve set up a ticking bomb, in our house (our one and only home, the Earth), and we don’t know when it will detonate. Gun violence pales against what may come as a result of climate change.
Climate change is the great leveler. It’s time to address it, and with that acknowledgement, we’ll spontaneously begin to address all the other symptoms, including gun violence, of our broken culture…And we’ll begin to heal our fractured world.
Climate change is the great leveler. What better day to fess up than today, Earth Day?
My double life has so far manifested behind these scenes. The blogs I write are about helping marriage thrive, examining divorce, honoring the power of human attachment and social/sexual bonds. But meanwhile—and to explain my relative quiet here at my blog—I’ve been writing a novel; a novel that confronts head on this troubling world our children are to inherit. A novel that asks us, Is this how we really want to live? Is this really where we want to go? Is this really what we want for our children?
And I’ve been wondering what else I can do…so I tell my sons about Sandra Steingraber, and how she’s gone to jail, and why. And my twelve-year old, my beloved firstborn who now says, too often, "Mommy, people are doing a lot of dumb stuff right now." He looks at me, and says, “I bet her kids are proud of her.”
It’s high time we make them proud.
Sandra Steingraber on Bill Moyers (April 17, 2013)
Mother: Caring for Seven Billion (new movie, available free thru May in honor of Earth Day.)
Climate of Doubt (Frontline explores the campaign to deny climate change. October 2012.)
Rachel has been a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the Society of Environmental Journalists since 1997.