One of the jokes going around has it that being a Canadian these days is like living over a meth lab. When I first heard this line, it was in reference to the intentionally stoked fear and loathing that currently characterize U. S. political discourse. What the joke didn’t address was the fact that even if the meth lab doesn’t blow you sky high, the fumes will still make you very sick.
There’s more poison in the air these days than political hate speech. There’s the virus and the acrimonious discussion about the virus. There are racial and economic inequalities and the fury raised by naming these inequalities. There are firestorms, choking smoke and virulent climate change debate. On a smaller scale, there’s FaceBook, the Valley Voice Letters to the Editor section and angry neighbours.
Honestly, some days I hardly know what to worry about first.
My nephew Bayard—whose home is minutes from the biggest Oregon fire—sent me a note saying, “I am exhausted to my core… What are we doing on this planet? It is so hard to witness that I often find myself paralyzed.”
His question got me thinking: just what are we doing? Depending on your frame of reference, we are ushering in the Sixth Extinction, welcoming the apocalyptic end times, or collapsing under a new world order. Or maybe we’re giving birth: it all depends on your perspective.
Whatever your interpretation of these days, most folks I know are grieving, and trying to be kind and decent in the face of immense suffering. It almost doesn’t matter how much of our suffering is self-inflicted, other-afflicted, or falls into the category “shit happens.” It all hurts. We are all hurting.
But it does matter how we choose to consider these times. Some conceptual frames lead us into paralysis, some to endless cycles of blame. Some could lead to new life. At the risk of sounding naive, I think there’s immense possibility if we view the current chaos as birth pangs. “Birthing what?” you might ask. I don’t know, but then no one in labour is ever certain of the outcome. It’s love and hope that keep one pushing. For sure, nothing will be born if we don’t do the work.
The mental construct of this time as labour may not remove or even reduce the pain, but it will allow us to bear distress more gracefully. When we carry our own suffering, we are less likely to shove it off on others. We are less likely to respond in kind when another spews hate and fear. There is a quiet integrity in shouldering our own pain: grief at what has been lost, sorrow for the suffering all around us, fear of what happens next.
So what are we doing on this planet? At one level, no one knows. At another, it’s up to each of us to decide: are we breathing in the fumes or assisting at the birth?