NOT One-Size-Fits-All, or What Would You Tell a Pregnant 10-year-old?

I turned in my primary election ballot this morning. Folks can still request an advance ballot until tomorrow, or they can vote early at the courthouse for another week. Election day is August 2. For those who might be confused about the amendment issue on the ballot, I think it boils down to whether you trust the legislature to protect the health and future of everyone, or just the unborn? In other words, what would you want for a pregnant 10-year-old rape victim? As I think about my own innocent grandchildren, ages from 1 to 12, the answer is clear to me. A child at that age should not be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

Nobody I know is “pro-abortion”. We are, however, pro-choice. Abortion is an option that is tragic, but it is not a simple, right-or-wrong, black-or-white issue. We must keep legal abortion available as an option for women–and girls–in crisis pregnancies.

Before you write me off as a “Baby Killer,” let me assure you I am not. I hate to see anyone or anything hurting. All my life I have befriended the friendless, rescued turtles crossing highways, and taken steps to avoid hurting most other living things for as long as I can remember. (Exceptions: mosquitoes, ticks, and flies.) It is preposterous to think I could choose to end the life of my own unborn child. It’s simply not within the realm of possibilities.

But this is not a simple thing. It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” issue. It is not “one solution for every situation.”

There is not a person on earth who can anticipate all the different factors facing a mother who is considering abortion. Each situation is unique and must be considered individually by those involved—the distressed mother, her family, and the medical team. The rest of us have no right to interfere or to judge.

I come to this realization through a sequence of events unique to my own life. And I wonder, how many of those so quick to condemn other women facing dismal choices know what it’s like to lose a baby?

I do. I lost two. Not through abortion, but through natural deaths. They were both stillborn. The babes would both be 39 and 40 now and not a day goes by that I don’t miss them. They were very much loved and wanted, but it was not to be. I do believe God loves them too and I find comfort thinking they entered his benevolent care the moment of their deaths. We can’t forget what lies beyond.

How many women quick to condemn others for a difficult decision have ever been offered the option of ending a problem pregnancy through abortion? I have. Twice.

After the first baby’s death, the best my medical team had to offer was frequent sonograms during two subsequent pregnancies. They would then recommend an abortion should things start to go wrong.

I declined. Note again: I DECLINED. I couldn’t have opted for an abortion on either one. Instead, I chose not to have any sonograms at all. If something was to happen, I didn’t want to know it.

I am grateful to this day, however, that I was offered the choice. The decision was ultimately mine to make, and nobody else’s. My choice was to cherish every moment I had with my children, for as much time as we had together.

I lost the second baby too. But the third pregnancy, six years later, left me with a precious girl who now has two healthy girls of her own.

I wonder other things about those outspoken critics of pro-choice folks. How many of them have felt the knife-twist of agony to hear that an un-named teenage girl has chosen an abortion for her child rather than allow you to adopt the infant? I have. And I grieved anew for another baby lost. (But I still support her right to choose.)

How many critics have opened their homes to raise a child brought into the world by others? I have. The adoption and the parenting of my daughter proved to be one of the most challenging decisions of my life.

How many have opened their homes, offering shelter to young women wrestling with an unwanted pregnancy? Instead of condemning the unknown young woman who chose abortion over adoption, I became an advocate for girls in crisis situations, offering my home to house them until delivery. I hoped that my actions helped reassure those women that their unborn child would be treasured in an adoptive family.

How many have experienced conversations with a woman who, after hearing my story of loss and adoption, tearfully confessed to ending an unexpected pregnancy years previously. She agonized over her decision and felt a need to apologize to me, an adoptive mom. I offered her my shoulder to cry on and my compassion.

There is nothing simple about this issue.  I’ve never encountered a child as young as age 10 who had to confront the question. I have heard, though, that there were recently three 11-year-olds in my state whose parents sought to end their pregnancies. It should be an individual choice, not something politicians can dictate.

I’m glad I was offered a choice. I chose life for my children. It was God who had other plans for some of them.

With the temperature of our planet climbing beyond the point of no return, there is much more to be concerned with now. I choose life again—life for all of us, born and unborn, children, youth, adults and the aging, people on every continent and island nation, the threatened species on our beautiful and diverse planet.

Preserve individual choice with compassionate support for distressed mothers and let’s move forward. We have a lot of work to do. I am not a baby-killer. I don’t want to be a planet-killer either.

Stop. Just Stop.

This is getting complicated.

So the word is out. There have been millions of babies killed through abortions since the procedure was legalized. I wonder about that. How many of those were fetuses that would never have lived, had they been born? How many procedures were done to save the mother’s life? I have grave reservations about the truth of that statement. Twenty-five million giggly babies just snuffed out? That’s trying to simplify a very complex statistic. After all, in recent years, the objections to terminating a pregnancy have yielded strict limitations on just what kind of pregnancy is eligible.

I am old enough to have come of age during the original fight to legalize abortion. When I was an adolescent, the procedure was illegal. But that didn’t mean abortions didn’t happen. And consequences were severe for desperate women seeking help. Too often, illegal abortions ended up killing or maiming the mother anyway. The legalization of abortion was a life-saving step. Just making it illegal will not stop desperate women from seeking to end a desperate pregnancy.

This all alludes to a sort of class warfare. Did you know, for instance, that 75% of abortions in recent years were for women at or below the federal poverty line? 60% of the women already had children at home that they couldn’t afford to feed. 55% of women who received abortions were single. They had precious little financial help to reach the $196,984 cost of raising a child to age 18. (Yes! Magazine Spring 2022)

It might have been in the early years that the procedure was sought too lightly. But no more. Today, almost all the people I know, pro-choice as well as pro-life, agree that abortion should never be used as a simple form of birth control. We must keep other contraceptives available and affordable and eliminate unwanted pregnancies. Is that a point we all can agree on?

You might find it surprising how many pro-choicers abhor the fact that some women have used abortion as a contraceptive. You might also be surprised how many of us pro-choicers, if offered the choice due to abnormal fetus development, would choose to continue our own pregnancies. After all, if faced with some dire news, you would do that. I would too. But it would be our own choice.

None of us have the right, though, to tell others what they can or can’t do. We simply don’t know all the details.

So has abortion been misused? Sadly, yes, by some. Therefore, you say, we should outlaw all abortions again. It’s just like:

A few people who misuse alcohol and drive drunk. Innocent people have been killed by drunk drivers. Obviously, we’ve banned all alcohol and all cars, right?

Or—A few people misuse guns, and go on shooting rampages, killing children in their school classrooms, and people in shopping centers or theaters or at parades. So of course, we have instituted a national ban on guns, haven’t we?

Oh. . . Wait. . . .

I get it. This is different.

Or is it?

Does mis-use of abortion by a few mean we have to remove that option for all? And if that’s what we gotta do, how about those guns anyway?  Surely the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for school age children is more important than the right to bear arms.

The intrusion into a person’s medical history and privacy is an unconscionable overstep by our government into our private lives and personal rights. None of us has the right to judge another on this extremely personal matter, nor to tell them what to do. We can offer love, compassion, and assistance, but we can’t make difficult choices impossible by removing options. There is nothing simple about pregnancy. Since every case is different, there is no single solution. All options need to be available. And nobody outside the triumvirate of parents and physician should even have a say in tough personal, medical decisions. No two pregnancies are alike. We can’t possibly know the inside stories of other families.

Vote No August 2. Keep abortion legal.

Reflections on Independence in 2022

In the aftermath of the high court decisions stripping people of privacy and personal rights, I have seen on Facebook where some of my friends plan to wear black on July 4. Some will fly the American flag upside down. And some will celebrate with cookouts and fireworks as always. I haven’t decided what I will do yet. Maybe I will enjoy the explosion of blossoms after recent rains. Flowers do a great job of mimicking those fleeting displays, without all the noise. Or maybe just sharing these musings will be my way of observing the 4th of July, 2022.

Thomas Paine wrote in 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” We have more of those times this year, 246 years after the Declaration of Independence. In Kansas, the day of reckoning fast approaches. It’s interesting to me to note that the original document, though given the date of July 4, 1776, was not fully signed by our founders until August 2, 1776. August 2, 2022 is a very important day for Kansas voters. It’s our primary election day. But not only that, in their infinite wisdom (NOT!) the legislature slated a vote for an amendment on the Kansas constitution on primary day.

This is a problem because voter turnout is typically low for such elections. If you are an independent voter, you usually have no reason whatsoever to go. But this year, even independent voters have the right to vote on the proposed amendment. Use that right and cast your vote, even if it’s the only thing on the ballot you have a say in.

The amendment itself removes a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and leaves it up to our “esteemed” legislature to decide when and if abortion as health care is warranted. That is a problem right there. These people are not necessarily doctors. Few of them are medically trained. Though some folks, notably the director of Family Life Services in a neighboring town, are confident that the legislature will not ban abortions for cases of rape, incest or ectopic pregnancy, I don’t share that confidence. I don’t trust politicians. Most of them no longer listen to the people they serve. (Kuddos to those who are still trying!)

A very concise letter to the editor of our local newspaper had the best summary of voting on this amendment that I have seen.

Simply this:

  • If you are pro-choice, Vote No.
  • If you are pro-life but want some exceptions in the rule for cases of rape, incest, and health of the mother, Vote No.
  • If you are pro-life and want zero abortions, zero exceptions, then you Vote Yes.

 

Where do I stand in those three groups? I think many of us lean toward the middle, and I am one of those. It is heartbreaking when a pregnancy becomes problematic, even more so when a mother has to make the insane choice about whether to end her pregnancy. We certainly don’t need to open the doors to prosecute women who have just lived through a personal crisis. Or to have investigators show up at the door of someone who miscarried, suspicious about a pre-meditated ending of the life of the unborn.

In a meeting I attended in early June, an attorney familiar with the Kansas constitution pointed out that since statehood in 1861, there have been 98 amendments passed by the people. This is one of a very few, perhaps the only one, that would REMOVE rights previously established by the constitution. Think carefully about this amendment.

Complicating the issue is the fact that abortions are already highly regulated in the state, so essentially the amendment is not necessary. Already, abortions must be performed by a licensed physician. They are prohibited after 22 weeks, except in cases of life or health endangerment. Late-term abortions, and abortions based on gender selection are absolutely prohibited. Private insurance coverage is limited to cases of life endangerment. Public funding for abortion is available only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. Patients must undergo an ultrasound before a procedure. There is a 24 hour waiting period after state-directed counseling prior to a procedure. Parental consent is required for minors seeking an abortion.

Just as no two people are alike, there are no two pregnancies alike either. In my own immediate family there are six women, from my mother, to her three daughters (of which I am one) and my two daughters. Though all six of us bore children, four of us experienced failed pregnancies. That is 67%. For us, those pregnancies were wanted, the babies anticipated, and their natural demise was tragic. If abortion becomes illegal—zero exceptions—the grief we felt at our losses could be compounded exponentially in future miscarriages by investigating detectives and charges of murder.

If you have never experienced a failed pregnancy, count your lucky stars. Current statistics on failed pregnancies (miscarriages and stillbirths) indicate that 20% of conceptions in North America fail naturally. For those families who eagerly anticipated a bright bubbly baby, and have to go home to an empty nursery, the pain is already too much to bear. It is unconscionable to add the possibility of prosecution for the failure on top of it all.

Given current trends to thwart environmental protections in favor of big corporations, the incidence of failed pregnancies is likely to explode. Naomi Klein states in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, “For all the talk about the right to life and the rights of the unborn, our culture pays precious little attention to the particular vulnerabilities of children, let alone developing life. Risk assessments most often focus on effects to adults.”

She quotes biologist Sandra Steingraber who has studied the issue. Steingraber: “Entire regulatory systems are premised on the assumption that all members of the population basically act, biologically, like middle-aged men.” [5’7”, 157# white men at that].

Klein puts it into perspective: “More than three quarters of the mass-produced chemicals in the United States have never been tested for their impacts on fetuses or children. That means they are being released in the environment with no consideration for how they will impact those who weigh, say twenty pounds, like your average one-year-old girl, let alone a half-pound, like a nineteen-week fetus.”

And yet, it’s becoming clear that proximity to environmental degradation, including fracking, increases low birth weight by 50%, and the chances of a low Apgar score double at birth. Communities near refineries or massive tar sands extraction are seeing the normal miscarriage rate double.

The recent high court ruling against the EPA’s ability to regulate emissions from power plants almost certainly will increase environmental hazards. Mutations of growing fetuses, viability at birth, and the incidence of miscarriage will increase. Be prepared.

With a nod to Thomas Paine, These are the times that try a woman’s soul, as well as all who value constitutional freedom.

And in Kansas, the choice is clear. We must keep the option of abortion by trained medical personnel open and legal.

Vote No on the constitutional amendment August 2.

What’s a Grandma to do?

With the preponderance of plastic items everywhere you turn, it’s a real challenge to figure out how to reduce my use. Take, for instance, the celebratory picnic of grandson’s swim team season two weeks ago. Hotdogs and hamburgers would be furnished, but each family was to bring along “prepackaged” sides to make the meal complete. Prepackaged? I visualized single serving chip bags, plastic containers of fruit or pudding, industrial cookies and brownies, wrapped and sealed in plastic before packaging in paperboard boxes.

How to reduce my family’s plastic contribution?

Here’s what I decided to do. I baked a batch of home-made oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips, and put one cookie each inside a single paper sleeve.

I had found a supply of these online when preparing a promotion of Grandma Georgia’s Recipe File at an old-time crafts festival.

Then I cleaned and sanitized 24 small plastic cups that included plastic lids, which came with the free USDA summer lunches provided during COVID for the grandson. I selected ripe and attractive grapes, chunks of melon, and a bing cherry, and made two dozen fresh fruit cups. I sealed them with the cleaned lids. Okay, I know. This was still in plastic, but at least it was re-used plastic before it was tossed into the trash bins.

(Fruit cups similar to the picnic items. I forgot to take a picture of those.)

This reducing plastic thing is hard. It’s everywhere, and we’re so used to it, we don’t even think about it anymore.

Moving Toward Zero Plastic One Step at a Time

After watching the documentary The Story of Plastic with several friends and neighbors last month, and reading Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too,  I am convinced we need to move toward a plastic free world sooner, rather than later. Like maybe, yesterday. Or last year.

It’s not going to be easy. Look around. Nearly everything we do, everything we have, everything we shop for at the local stores is–if not made of plastic itself–wrapped up in it, sealed with it, packaged, bottled, bagged in it. We are so used to plastic in our lives, where do we even begin?

Beth Terry has some really good ideas about that. Her book is chock-full of tips, personal stories (mostly from her experiences), and suggestions for alternatives. I highly recommend it for everyone. It’s written so engagingly, that I was trying some of her ideas with each chapter, without waiting to finish the book. For quick starters, she also blogs at https://myplasticfreelife.com/

For instance, take plastic bags. These nuisances are very bad for the environment, totally unnecessary, but so hard to avoid. I am old enough to recall the days before plastic bags when everything was bagged in paper bags. And of course, we were urged to change our habits then to save the trees! What about the days before paper bag convenience? What about a hundred years ago? What, even, do some other countries do today (or at least in the more recent past, before the bag-pushers got to them)?

People once were responsible for providing their own take-out crates, bags, or boxes. And in some places, that custom still exists. Here at home, it seems that every worthy organization offers free re-usable shopping bags. Some are more road-worthy than others, but at least they aren’t hard to find. I have a dozen in my car, ready for toting new purchases. The good thing about cloth bags is that they can be tossed into the laundry and cleaned for reuse. We just have to remember to take a few into the store when we get the week’s provisions.

If you are a little short on bags, Beth Terry offered good ideas for making your own. How many of us have a drawer-full of old t-shirts we’ve collected at various events? I know I do. They serve a purpose for a day or two, and then gradually get buried under other shirts. Try digging out some t-shirts you haven’t worn for years and make them into shopping bags.

It’s easy–

  1. Trim the sleeves off, just outside the seams. Trim the neckline to make the top opening bigger. This need not be hemmed, just leave it raw cut.
  2. Turn the shirt inside out and sew two seams across the bottom. Two seams adds strength.
  3. Turn it right-side out, and you’ve got a bag.

If you happen to have a tank top that hasn’t been worn for a long time, it’s even easier. No sleeves to trim! Just double-seam the bottom edge and it’s a ready-made bag.

If you have no sewing machine, just cut a fringe and tie knots along the bottom. For a festive look, add beads, or other bits of things.

You can express yourself with the shirts you choose, and have a Uniquely You collection of reusable shopping bags. Or make some to give away each time you shop.

One other homemade  bag suggested in the book is one crocheted out of plarn. I had never heard of plarn, but it’s a thing. Google it and you’ll find all kinds of video instructions on how to make a ball of “plarn” (that is, plastic yarn) from shopping bags. There are detailed instructions on the crocheting process, and even patterns for other items, like bedrolls for homeless people. (Really!) Talk about re-using something. A bedroll would take lots of bags from landfills already overflowing with once-used plastic stuff, or re-purpose hundreds that otherwise might blow into the trees in your hometown or the pond in your park, and might even provide a bit of comfort for those with precious little of that commodity.

My experimental plarn bag, still light-weight, but with the strength of 50 single-use bags:

Show and tell reusable homemade bags at the screening of The Story of Plastic:

Zero Plastic, Step One: Carry (and use!) reusable shopping bags.

Plastics and Me

Trash in the forest

Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by a glut of information on a topic, the immensity of a problem or a challenge, that I quite literally don’t know where to begin. Plastic pollution is such a topic. Plastics and me have had a decades-long feud. Though I grew up in the early days of the plastic boom, love for the natural world and wilderness led me to associate plastics with everything cheap and shoddy. The preponderance of the growing available products—from cheap tourist souvenirs to Tupperware (remember the parties??!)—helped me associate the word “plastic” with things that lacked authenticity: cheap imitations, counterfeit, false, fake, superficial, synthetic, and MAN-MADE.

As I moved from my parents’ home, my older sister gave me a set of dinnerware; four each of plates, bowls, and cups—a generous gift to start my adult life. But I was horrified because they were PLASTIC! I’m sure she felt conflicted and confused by my reaction, but the plastic set was returned to the store and traded for a couple pieces of cast iron cookware. (I later settled on a set of ceramic dinnerware.)

Shortly after that, I discovered No More Plastic Jesus by Adam Daniel Finnerty that became a guide book for life. Once again here, plastic meant fake, artificial, and superficial. It has been my lifelong passion to seek genuine things. Some of those are indeed crafted by human hands (take pianos, for example, or the handcrafted furniture in my office made in my father’s woodworking shop), but they use what Nature provides, not what chemists can create by manipulating petroleum into indestructible other stuff.

Having studied a science discipline in my undergraduate curriculum, (geology, a “natural science”) I get testy when people sneer at science and scientists in general. I recall a class I took in preparation for a secondary teaching certificate in the physical sciences. It was called “Science, Technology, and Society” and was a forum to examine ethical questions behind scientific exploitation of Nature’s gifts. Just because we CAN do something, doesn’t mean we SHOULD.

Chemists are scientists too. Just because we know how to re-form the molecules in petroleum and natural gas into long, indestructible polymers, doesn’t necessarily mean we should. Discarded plastic products pile up in waste streams and emit the toxins added somewhat secretly by petro-chemical companies to enhance product qualities, clog waterways and swirl in our oceans. It’s becoming clear that even though we humans discovered how to make cheap single-use plastic products, we should not be inundating our planet with the stuff.

Environmental writers around the world note that some plastic products are very beneficial. In the medical field, plastics save lives. In transportation, they help make our vehicles more fuel efficient. On a piano keyboard, plastic saves the lives of elephants whose tusks formerly were used to cover wooden keysticks.

Piano keys

Most of the beneficial plastics are meant to endure for decades. Those we encounter on grocery shopping trips are meant to be thrown away. Single-use plastic products, packaging, and shopping bags have become a huge global problem. And that’s got lots of people riled up, justifiably.

This month of July has become the month of plastic trash awareness in my house. YES! Magazine issued an invitation to join their team for a “Plastic Free Ecochallenge” through July. On the website are hundreds of ideas to cut or eliminate personal plastic consumption in areas of food, personal care, life style, pets, family, and community action. There are campaigns against single-use plastic around the globe. Break Free From Plastic lists campaigns by the groups Beyond Plastic, City to Sea, GAIA, Greenpeace, People Over Petro, Plastic Free Seas, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Plastic Soup Foundation, Recycling Network, Friends of the Earth, Surfrider Foundation, and others. GAIA offers a “Zero Waste World Masterplan.”

I’ve been reading Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers, Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle, and Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry. In addition, there are numerous blogs addressing plastic pollution with ideas for each of us to make a statement–and a difference–in various ways.

The pictures painted by each of these authors show a global emergency. If we don’t curtail the production and use of single-use disposable plastics before the plastics industry is a century old, there will be more plastic items in the Earth’s oceans than ocean life. No form of animal life –not even humans—will be free from synthetic polymers in the organs of their bodies. (Discover Magazine, “Microplastics are Everywhere, But Their Health Effects on Humans are Still Unclear”, Jillian Mock, January 11, 2020)

Plastic pollution is a global crisis and it’s driven by the petro-chemical industry. In my hometown, every year a group of volunteers cleans our beautiful park of plastic trash as an April, Earth Day project. How disheartening to see the confounded stuff return before May 1! Some trash blows in, other items are carelessly littered, still more is “harvested” from appropriate trash receptacles by roaming nocturnal wildlife.

Our homes are filled with the indestructible polymers. With daunting names like low density polyethylene, (LDPE), high density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene, (PS), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE), nylon, or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), these “poly-mers” are found in items from children’s toys to floor coverings, to toothbrushes, to water pipes, to cookware and grocery packaging to nearly everything else.

The Story of Stuff organization has produced a documentary, The Story of Plastic. This film takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it. Spanning three continents, the film illustrates the ongoing catastrophe: fields full of garbage, veritable mountains of trash, rivers and seas clogged with waste, and skies choked with the poisonous emissions from plastic production and processing. With engaging original animation, archival industry footage beginning in the 1930s, and first-person accounts of the unfolding emergency, the film distills a complex problem that is increasingly affecting the well-being of the planet and its residents.

Locally, we’ve been given a chance to view this highly acclaimed film as part of Marquee’s Green Screen summer film series, Saturday July 24, 7:00 pm in the lobby of the theater. Local residents are invited to come to the screening. There is no admission charge. To view the film’s trailer, check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37PDwW0c1so. Bring questions and ideas about combatting the local glut of plastic trash. Be sure to RSVP on Marquee’s Facebook event page so organizers can plan accordingly.  For a five-minute animated condensation of the documentary, see https://www.storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-plastic-animation/

Landfill trash

On Hope, Peace, and our Future

During this tumultuous and challenging time, today’s holiday to remember one of history’s honored leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gives a chance to pause and reflect on some of his favorite speeches. Excerpts from addresses of Dr. King through the course of his career can be found engraved in granite at the MLK memorial in Washington, D.C.

Out of the mountain of despair, a Stone of Hope

We visited there a few years ago. The impact of those words gave a hush of reverence to the area. Today, I remember Dr. King, and ponder his life and his words, in the spirit of hope that the memorial offers to a divided country and world.

A few of Dr. King’s words, surrounding the massive mountain and engraved for posterity in granite, testify to the power of our spirit, through language. Long may the words provide hope for those in the midst of a struggle for justice and equality, until the day when everyone on Earth is valued as an equal member of the worldwide community.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.                                                                             (Norway 1964)

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.          (1963)

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.          (Norway 1964)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.    (Alabama 1963)

Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.     (District of Columbia 1959)

I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.  (California 1967)

It is not enough to say, “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not only on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.    (California 1967)

Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.  (New York 1962)

If we are to have peace on Earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical, rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation, and this means we must develop a world perspective.  (Georgia 1967)

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.   (District of Columbia 1968)

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.    (1963)

This is not a complete collection of the quotations at the memorial. But it is most of them. One could spend hours there, meditating on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and pondering his legacy which is forever established through the power of his words. Located amidst the awe-inspiring memorials in our nation’s capital, it is fitting to remember this man’s life today, on the holiday declared to honor his life and legacy. And we return to that stone of hope during these difficult times, with renewed anticipation that a corner of our history has been turned and we will look toward renewed progress to uplift every person, and every living thing on Earth, with honor and respect.

Voting With the Voiceless

Sometimes it is next to impossible to feel even the slightest optimism. Days like that—like today—come more frequently as we dig ourselves deeper into the vast chasm of no-return. Then, when I least expect it, Tanna, a breath of hope arrives most unexpectedly. I hope you possess a cheerful, optimistic heart, and that you have the fortitude to hold onto the last shred of hope until the end.

Today, we are three weeks away from the most important election of the last hundred years. This is the last day a person could register to vote in the November 3 election. I hope everyone has taken care to get registered to vote. What if some have overlooked this important date?

I keep thinking about the arrogance—the conceit and spitefulness—of so many of today’s powerful executives, insisting on their right to extract every last bit of natural wealth from the planet for their own gain. The tragedy of this is that they hardly need more wealth in their bank accounts, with billions of dollars already there. They just like to throw around their money-backed power, and ridicule the rest of us. Let the future go to hell, as long as they can watch figures accrue in their un-taxed accounts.

It is so important to change the way our government rules the corporations, for the sake of all of us, successive generations, and for all the life forms on the planet. There is a growing movement to secure basic rights for nature in scattered places around the world. Ecuadorians even wrote it into their revised constitution. It’s an uphill battle here in North America, but as Thomas Berry wrote, “We must now understand that our own well-being can be achieved only through the well-being of the entire natural world. . .”

What, exactly is the concept “Rights of Nature?” From the website of Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN: www.therightsofnature.org) it is the recognition and honoring that Nature has the “right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles.” Our ecosystems and their elements—including trees, water systems, animals, and the land itself—have rights just as humans do in our judicial system. All life on Earth is deeply connected.

Years ago, I attended several family-oriented seminars designed to help parents discover the values and strengths that give purpose to their family, as well as to individuals. Through the seminars I understood that my life’s purpose lay in writing, since I had been occupied in pursuits to discover, preserve, and creatively express the beauty of the world around me all my life. I also realized that I am most satisfied when I lend aid, support, and encouragement to others, including elements of the wilderness. I seek to gently support the inner greatness of those with little voice.

That would include Nature, and the entire web of systems that all life forms rely on for sustenance. And that, Tanna, is why I’m working like never before to support candidates who are aware of the environmental risks we face, and willing to listen and work for climate solutions that will benefit every one of us.

This election, I start with Ken White, the musician. Not only has he worked as a professional entertainer, he and his wife Robin Macy together manage the Bartlett Arboretum, one of the natural wonders of Kansas, a thriving oasis that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Someone that close to the heartbeat of the earth, with mottos of “Loyal to Local” and “People Over Politics” surely has the determination to act with the future in mind.

In an online rally, Laura Lombard, a candidate for the US House of Representatives from the local District 4 in Kansas, explained her three top priorities. One was to bolster the economy of rural areas. Another was to make sure everyone had access to affordable health care.

And the third priority she mentioned was the climate crisis. As mother to a toddler, she is worried about what the world will be like when her son grows up. With some creative work, some of her concerns can be solved together. New jobs can be those which benefit the local environment.

The League of Conservation Voters and Natural Resources Defense Council endorsed Dr. Barbara Bollier for the US Senate, two more reasons to support Dr. Bollier. It was thrilling to participate in an online rally jointly sponsored by those groups where they highlighted the environmental statements of six Senatorial candidates around the nation. Dr. Bollier was one of those. And after they spoke, Paul Simon picked up his guitar and sang good old songs from an age long ago.

The Joe Biden/Kamala Harris team has a plan to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, at the same time creating millions of new jobs in the alternative energy and environmental fields. Win/win, right?

These candidates in the upcoming election represent what is best for the people, the nation, the land, and the world, not merely what is best for the millionaires who finance campaigns of their opposition. May the peoples’ candidates prevail! In three weeks, we will know.

One of my life values is harmony. I suppose that could coincide with my musical interests and career as a piano technician. Let’s get rid of the dissonance. (Tune that piano.) Let’s get rid of the obstinate governing bodies that do very little beyond argue with each other—tune that government!

Tanna, with my focus on harmony, I abhor confrontation. I shy away from disagreements, even though I hold some very firm beliefs about where we are and where we should go. To post my support of the green candidates at various levels of government was a big leap in my playbook. I usually don’t do things like that. But this year, it’s too important not to take a stand. If we don’t change our direction—NOW—there will be no tomorrows to look forward to. That’s why we posted signs for our candidates at the end of our driveway. And it’s why I have added bumper stickers to my car.

My heart pounds a little harder whenever I leave home. We’ve been pumped so full of mistrust of each other that I would not be surprised to be challenged by some belligerent, bearded, gun-toting white man. But I must do it anyway. The time has come—indeed, is long past—to take a stand. With my own perceived life’s purpose, I must vote for the Earth, for all the trees, and wildlife that have no vote, nor voice. As Thomas Berry pointed out decades ago, and others even long before that, without nature we are nothing.

Day 6: The Leadership of Indigenous People

Today is Monday, Tanna, and this particular Monday is an observed national holiday. Like many things taken for granted when I was a child, there is considerable contention surrounding this second Monday in October.

Long recognized as “Columbus Day,” it celebrates the historic voyage by Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. His destination was the far east and he gambled they would not sail off the edge of the world. And he was right. Earth is spherical. However, it’s much larger than he conjectured. He assumed he’d landed in India, when in reality, he anchored his ship in a cove off a Caribbean Island, the one we recognize today as Cuba.

But, in my school days, we all learned, “Columbus discovered America.”

The irony of this misleading historical fake fact is that he, himself, never set foot anywhere on the North American continent. He gets credit for discovery, however, even though the islands and the continents of the western hemisphere were occupied already by well-established cultures of native people.

Those he met at the end of his voyage must surely be residents of India, he reasoned. And so, though they were already known to each other by many other names, the First Peoples of North America came to be known as Indians.

This misappropriation became ludicrous in my mind the year I actually visited India and met genuine Indians. Since then, I resist the notion to call our indigenous nations by that term. Ojibway, Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, Kaw, Ponca, Apache, Lakota, Arapahoe, Tlingit, Haida, Hopi, Navajo (to name but a few)—each group formed its own nation with its own economy, culture, and government. The influx of Europeans ignored the autonomy of natives. European arrogance and entitlement have led to centuries of conflict and bloodshed.

Today there is a movement to recognize the dignity of the remaining indigenous populations, not only here, but indigenous people around the world. And that traditional holiday celebrating Columbus is now recognized in many hearts, and a few states and municipalities, as Indigenous People Day.

Our recognition and respect go far beyond one day, though. As the plight of our planet grows ever more dire, indigenous people raise their cry of dissention—and many others join them. Books on the native ways are available. Panels of indigenous leaders offer international online seminars in which the panelists share thoughts, concerns, ideas, and suggestions for moving forward.

I am listening. Perhaps in your day, Tanna, the Columbus celebrations will have retreated to a distant corner, like a demoralized dog, head down and tail between its legs.

Native peoples on every continent lead the way in our infant efforts to bind ourselves intimately with the natural world. Thomas Berry recognized this in his writings. “We have even forgotten our primordial capacity for language at the elementary level of song and dance.” He went on to point out how native Americans revere our wild neighbors through their musical and chanting ceremonies.

“One of the significant historical roles of the primal people of the world,” Berry wrote in The Dream of the Earth, “is to call the entire civilized world back to a more authentic mode of being. [Native peoples] are emerging as one of our surest guides into a viable future.”

Tanna, I struggle for words to describe what’s in my heart when Berry refers to native music from the wild places. One panel I experienced during the heat of this COVID summer included indigenous women of all ages, and from varied locations in the western hemisphere. The Ecuadorian woman, Patricia Gualinga, mentioned how the meetings her people hold always start with music, to create harmony, and that all participants—male or female, young or old—are treated with the same respect and consideration. All are equal in their councils.

Strangely, this draws my mind to our District 79 state representative race. Ken White, the man challenging the conservative incumbent, is a musician. He shows up at campaign events with a guitar strapped to his shoulders. And I think to myself, It wouldn’t hurt to bring a little music to ease the tension in our statehouse.

Happy Indigenous People Day, Tanna! I hope that in your time, it is without question or contention the focus of an October holiday. To the leaders of the people so long abused by our national and state policies, I say, “Lead on. It’s your turn now.”

And I truly hope they help us find the way back to a thriving relationship with the natural world.

Pardon me now, as I head off on my own private walk in celebration of Indigenous People Day, an effort publicized online as the Rising Hearts Run/Walk, located anywhere on Turtle Island.

With enduring love,

Your Seventh Generation Grandmother

Day 5: Never Lose Hope

Dear Tanna,

I have limited experience with hospice workers. My mother was on hospice before she died and my dad was deeply grateful for the compassionate assistance the workers brought to their home. This concept of providing dignity to those facing imminent death is fairly recent. There was nothing like that available for me three decades ago when my husband struggled with cancer.

It seems somewhat audacious, maybe even preposterous, to think that those responsible for the decline of our planet’s life systems would dare to consider themselves hospice workers. How could agents of death possibly bring compassion and dignity to the decline of the climate conditions that support all life forms on Earth?

When I am in a down mood, I see humanity as a species that needs to go, in order to save the rest. Nature needs to eliminate her threat and we are the major cause of today’s destruction. Those who care seem to have little influence on the those in leadership positions. We are caught in a system that we cannot seem to change, trapped like animals in a live trap.

As a young widow, years ago, I taught earth science at the local high school when I was struggling to find a new life and purpose. I tried to infuse awareness of the decline of the environment in the teenagers. Considering all of geologic history, today’s situation apparently is not the first time that a life form created mass extinction through its waste products. The waste product for early single-celled life in the oceans was oxygen. Through proliferation, the simple metabolic processes of early life changed the composition of the atmosphere, paving the way for new life to evolve.

Geologically and astronomically speaking, our solar system is roughly halfway through the sun’s expected life. Given a few more billion years, there should be plenty of time for new life to evolve from the scraps left after this climate crisis settles into a new equilibrium. Am I comforted by this thought?

I have mixed feelings about it. When I watch neighbors roar past my Prius on the highway in 4-wheel drive fuel-guzzling pick-ups, or watch Styrofoam cups blow into the tall grasses along the road, or see trash, littered by passing motorists, build up around our small pond at the corner of two paved roads, I think to myself, “Humans are such slobs. Maybe it’s time. Nature is out to rectify our wrongs.” If we view the entire planet as one living organism, we humans, through our collective ignorance and apathy, are a disease to the planet, like its terminal cancer.

Then I talk to cherished friends who suffer anguish at the exploitation of the natural world, or I work with my piano students to help them master skills that will enable them to express themselves through music, or I watch my grandson playing with the baby goats in our front yard, and I am reminded that “We aren’t all bad.”

The eras of geologic history are separated by mass extinctions, as witnessed in the fossil records. PreCambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic. Based also on the geologic record, the previous eras were millions of years in duration. We are responsible for the mass extinction we are witnessing now, and it’s happening much more rapidly than any we have evidenced in the rock records. If we compare all of geologic history to a half-mile walk, humans appeared mere inches before the end that represents today. From the first appearance of a human to now encompasses a few seconds on a 24-hour clock that represents Earth’s history.

To disregard and exploit everything on the planet for selfish reasons, with no check on ourselves, empathy for other species, or consideration for future generations, has got to be the biggest crime against this remarkable and fragile speck of a planet in the cosmos. We are guilty of that crime. Our lifestyles trap us in a system that is dooming life as we know it.

Nobody knows what will come of the situation we face today, but I have to wonder how we are any different from those early single cell life forms? One way is this: We know what we’re doing. Science has instruments to measure the health of our planet, and to record its ruin. Yet we seem unable to stop our actions. Assuming that the early life lacked thought processes and their waste contamination was purely accidental and a product of their success, I have to think this is vastly more irresponsible. To know and not to take steps to stop the atmospheric decline surely is an unpardonable sin.

Tanna, with the weight of this responsibility on our shoulders, how can we possibly presume to act as hospice workers in Earth’s decline?

I struggle to remind myself that we humans are as much a part of the universe as the meadowlarks and coyotes and deer and butterflies. And I also remember, through my mother’s experience with hospice, that it’s entirely possible to reverse the diagnosis. Mother was admitted to hospice, not once, but three times before she passed from this life. The first two times, she got better and was released. So hospice doesn’t always carry despair and finality with it. The challenge becomes restoring dignity, and easing the decline. Maybe—maybe—with enough of us working toward a solution, we can drawdown the greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere and restore the climate to one where life as we know it can thrive.

Hope is the other part of hospice. We must never lose hope. That’s why I’m writing these letters to you.

I love nature for the answers it suggests. How do we move towards the light? The prairie suggests, no matter how bad things may look, “Bloom anyway.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that “Earth Laughs in Flowers.”

I don’t laugh often enough, but when I do, it’s wonderful. Laughter is healing, as documented by Norman Cousins when he postponed his predicted demise by embarking on a process of regular daily laughter. Perhaps we should all do what we can to encourage flowers to bloom, to tickle the planet and laugh with nature.

I think it’s unlikely that any one effort of mine will make a difference for the planet. However, added to other efforts, we will make a difference. Maybe individual actions don’t matter much, but they count for something. If we do nothing, we are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

This is absolutely an exciting time to be alive. We are on the edge of tomorrow, of a time when the course of history will be determined by our collective actions. Will we prevail? Will we assist nature to overcome this dire threat?

One thing that I plan to do very soon is vote. I will vote for candidates who are on the record for their commitment to act for the climate. I will vote for the Earth.

In the end, everything that we do matters. Every decision we make, every product we select, and every choice we make to fill our minutes will matter for the future. Through action, hope is born and hope is crucial to redemption. Never forget that. Never lose hope. To do so would cement the terminal diagnosis of the planet.

With enduring love,

Your seventh-generation Grandmother