Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Both Beautiful and Dangerous

One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall
The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all

Bruce Cockburn, ‘Lovers In A Dangerous Time’

The news brought a short-lived smile to my face. After months of high profile speculation, the Obama administration recently announced it was postponing any decision on the Keystone Pipeline until after 2012’s presidential election.

Keystone is a proposed link between northern Alberta’s tar sands and the refineries of south Texas. It is a 2,700 kilometer vein through which oil acquired via some of the most environmentally dubious practices on earth would flow. NASA scientist James Hansen has said this project’s approval would pretty much mean “game over” for global climate as we know it.

So a grin warmed my features when I read of the decision. ‘Not exactly a victory,’ I thought, ‘but something.’

As mentioned, however, this smile was short-lived. Only days later, a high-ranking member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government revealed Canada’s likely response to this delay. Keeping with Harper’s long-standing refusal to include climate change and environmental integrity in policy decisions, the official claimed our country would simply take its product elsewhere: across the northwest provinces via another pipeline, then onto tankers that would cruise the BC coast before setting for Asia.

The difficult news did not stop there. In that same paper I found an column entitled ‘The Point of No Return On Climate Change’. In this Iain Hunter writes, “There was a report last week that I thought would have received much greater attention than it did. The International Energy Agency said the tipping point for when climate change becomes irreversible will be upon us in five years...If by then,” Hunter continued, “the changes demanded by international agreement - for all countries developed and developing must be on board - are not starting to be effective, the dreaded 2C of warming that the scientists (warn we must avoid) will be unavoidable.”

It was late afternoon when I read this. By the time I put my daughter to bed that evening, I was heavy with implications. It is a painful thing, playing with one’s child while simultaneously fearing for her future - to laugh at her tickles whilst contemplating a world diminished by human folly, the world she will inherit. Laying side by side as she drifted toward sleep I forced my eyes open. I wanted to look at her for as long as I could, to hold her in this way. I longed to say something - “Sorry,” perhaps - but could not find an adequate voice. My sight blurred behind tears. I fell under a weighted slumber.

Years ago, when I was a student at Naropa Institute, one of my classes hosted a guest lecturer. He was a healer of some sort. His gift involved visions. He spoke passionately through the entire ninety minutes he was allotted. What I recall is this: “Our culture is speeding toward a cliff.” He may have repeated this several times. I know he said it forcefully. I know it had an impact.

I was riveted by his words. I didn’t understand them. I couldn’t really grasp what they were pointing toward. But they felt true. This admitted, however, I never imagined I would one day look at the world of my lifetime and see evidence of his assertion in so many places: vanishing species and rising chaos, life systems of water and earth and air struggling, human population spiraling upward while our collective denial continues. I certainly did not imagine seeing this would cause me so much pain. That I would lay beside a slumbering nine year old and feel my heart ache for her. Break for all the children like her. Cry for all the parents who wonder fearfully, ‘What will her/his life be like?’ Who fear for what their childrens’ lives are like.

Among many other things, I consider this aching, breaking, crying heart further proof of the gifts my daughter has brought into my life. “She is a force,” I have often said. This force has the power to pull me out of habitual smallness - no small feat - and insist I step into something far more open and vast.

Delight offers one example of this. Prior to her birth delight in my life was often doled out in careful, considered rations. It was as if I had a Central Committee in my being. This was a grey haired, stone-faced group that used humorless guidelines to determine what was appropriate enjoyment. Woody Allen movies, for instance, were okay; animation was not. Bob Dylan was acceptable; ABBA on the other hand? No way! I was, in this regard, like many an ideologue: stiff, stingy, and terribly restricted.

Such stiffness is hard to maintain sitting beside Samantha as she watches Glee or Ugly Betty. Her excitement spills into the room when the kids sing ‘Loser Like Me’ or Betty’s nephew re-enacts Hairspray. As the waters of her delight rise, I have a couple of options: erect ever higher walls in an effort to avoid drowning or just give in and swim. Having tried the former on many occasions and failed - her pleasure comes up way more quickly than my walls - I now just laugh at my stinginess and try to relax. When able to do this, I become a little more open. I find myself smiling like a blissful idiot through, of all things, a wonderful medley of Journey songs!

My ability to feel for others has also been enlarged by my daughter. I feel for her, of course. But also for other children, sometimes all children. And also for other parents. I am so grateful for this growth. I appreciate beyond words the human maturity it represents - the growing up, the growing period. I just never thought it would hurt so much, scare me so.

I recently read a book entitled Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr. Upwards considers the spirituality of one’s second half of life. This, Rohr asserts, is a hard won spirituality, a difficult wisdom characterized by passage through pain. My experience with Samantha certainly bears this out.

Experience also bears out a second characteristic Rohr ascribes to this phase of development: a shift from ‘either/or’ to ‘both/and’. This is a movement out of a way of being that is necessarily narrow and bounded, and into something broad enough to hold the inherent contradictions of life. When we are able to transition into its second half, Rohr observes - and not all of us are - life is lived on bigger terms than before. Not good or bad, black or white, but good and bad, black and white.

“Look at this, Dad!” That is Samantha yelling. It is the morning after the Harper government’s tar sands declaration. I am slumped over the kitchen table, my heart still sore and heavy. I want nothing more than to crawl back under covers and hide for a while. I don’t want to look at anything. “Dad!” she insists. “Dad! Look!”

She is at the far end of the living room, dancing all over the couch. Her body is moving in ways mine cannot anymore; her feet doing things mine were never capable of. As her features light up, her hair sprays wild in every direction. Behind her is a large window. Through this I can see a clear blue sky opening wide to the day. It is tinted a vulnerable hue of pink way off on the horizon.

I smile in spite of myself. A deep, warming smile. ‘My God,’ I think wandering to where I can better watch my daughter and welcome the breaking day. As it had the night before, my sight blurs as I look at this child, take in the world of which she is part. My breath is raw and shallow as I sit there. It is all so beautiful.


Special Fall Offer

Thirty Minute Intuitive Session
Regular Price - $60
Until Nov 30, 2011 - $50
(All taxes included)