I was traveling to and from the landfill yesterday, discarding scraps of lumber and accumulated sawdust and garbage, and listening with one ear to Sheila Rogers’ interview with some person whose name I didn’t get because the conversation took longer than the garbage run. His points—as far as I could gather—included that:
1) we humans pretend to be in conscientious control of our environment, responsible caretakers of the earth, when actually, we are raping and pillaging the earth like rampaging morons, and that as a result,
2) life on earth will eventually (maybe shortly) discard us and life will go on without us so that,
3) the earth and its other inhabitants will be happy to see us go.
In 1920, poet Sara Teasdale wrote:
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war,
not one will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Ray Bradbury based a short story called “There will Come Soft Rains”on Teasdale’s poem, a story in which “mankind perishe[s] utterly” in a nuclear war. A recent TV documentary explored the restricted area around Chernobyl, and quite astoundingly discovered that animal and vegetable life was thriving there; the abandoned animals had gone feral and were doing well despite the high levels of radiation in the food chain.
The Biblical record tells us that the Children of Israel repeatedly strayed from the presence of the Creator and went their own way. A condensation of this oft-repeated story might be that such straying always leads to destruction and sorrow. We do well to pay heed to the prophetic voices warning us that we must humble ourselves before the creator and pay attention to the prophets of our time: Sara Teasdale, Ray Bradbury, David Suzuki, Al Gore, and the many in my church—the Mennonite Church—who have warned us that earth-care is people-care and that we can’t please our creator by pillaging his creation.
Most of us—I expect—live daily with what’s called “cognitive dissonance,” the stress that results from believing one thing and doing another. I was determined to disassemble the four palettes lying on my yard from construction and recycle the wood (good thing) but they were so stubbornly nailed together (bad thing) that I gave that up (bad thing) and hurled them all into the pit at the landfill (bad thing) where they will be burned (really bad thing), releasing a great deal of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and fly ash into the atmosphere (unforgivably bad thing). I am feeling really dissonant—cognitively—as a result.
Another word for this feeling is, of course, “guilty.”