A Glimpse of Grace for Earth Day 2021

I was invited to share a few thoughts for Earth Sunday at my church this year. The presentation received enthusiastic endorsements and is worth passing along. I share it below.

A year and a half ago, I headed to Nebraska for an “Elders for the Earth” retreat with the Hunters and Aurora from GUMC. I found it exhilarating to be with a roomful of folks attuned to the ballooning climate crisis, and respectful of the leadership offered by the world’s indigenous peoples.

There were seminars by experts in various fields, including a biology professor, a Catholic sister who shared how the global climate crisis affects our immigration issues, a panel of farmers who advocated for regenerative agriculture, and the Nebraska Sierra Club. Most important for me was the connection with others who share my anxiety about the future of life on Earth and who want to do something about it.

The weekend concluded with a native American smudging ceremony and we returned to our homes pledging actions to effect change that fit our own situations.

Little did I know how much that retreat would change my life. I returned home with ideas for action and a reading list. In the process of working through the books, COVID hit and our old “normal” world changed overnight.

None of us have escaped the COVID months unscathed. If we didn’t contract the virus ourselves, we certainly knew those who did. We all know people who suffered severe symptoms, and even some who succumbed to the virus. Yet in spite of the dire consequences, COVID months provided opportunities to stretch in different directions. I found myself zooming into conference calls with literally hundreds of people around the world, enrolling in online classes that focused on our climate challenges, as well as social justice, and economic systems. Through leadership of indigenous peoples around the world, I expanded my horizons and my hopes for our common future supported by an expanding awareness of our Earth community.

A couple of people and their ideas kept showing up in my varied explorations.

One was Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, a scientist, a writer and a member of the Citizen Potawatomie nation. Her book Braiding Sweetgrass helped change my life during COVID. The first time I ever read about Robin was in the run-up to last year’s 50th anniversary of Earth day in the Sierra magazine. She was a featured contributor and her description of a conversation with a student echoes in my mind yet today. “I’m sorry,” she said to this student, “that you have to still fight these environmental battles.” The student responded, “Don’t you see that this is the best possible time to be alive?” (What?! Climate chaos? Extinction crisis?) The student looked her in the eyes and said, “We are on the precipice. When everything hangs in the balance, it matters where I stand. How wonderful to live in a time when everything that I do matters.”

I actually had never thought of it quite like that. But that one idea opened lots of doors. The Elders Retreat helped me realize how complex the crisis we face really is.

Every part of our lives is impacted, from the food we eat to our economy, transportation, government, justice.

Everything on planet Earth is interconnected in ways we are just beginning to understand and no part of my life is immune to change.

Situations highlighting inequities in every area of our lives exploded over the last year. I could easily give in to hopelessness about our children’s future.

But I can’t allow myself that luxury. Those who can least afford to do anything about our climate are the neighbors we are to love and care for. One of my remote friends shared a gift that COVID presented her, the realization that families are made not by birth but by intention. COVID made our family grow to 7.9 billion people.

I can’t afford a moment of despair. But how do I find hope? There are hundreds of thousands of groups working toward a viable future around the world, representing millions of people. That gives me hope.

Another resource that the retreat introduced that I encountered over and over was the Drawdown project.

Through it I learned that we have at least 80 different ways to bring about a Drawdown of the warming gasses in our atmosphere. As COVID loosens its grip on our hometown, and our planet, we have a chance to return cautiously to a new “normal”—certainly not the old one—

that will put us on the path toward restoration of a healthy and viable planet for all of God’s creation. I find that exciting news, and I hope you do too. No one person can do it all, but I can do my part.

As one human family, with each of us doing our part, that will make the difference we need.

The State of Education

Have you ever heard of “Hump Day,” Tanna? I expect not. I haven’t even heard that term myself for quite a while. When I was a college student, one of my dear friends cheerfully greeted me every Wednesday saying, “Happy Hump Day!”

The phrase referred to the school week, getting in gear on Monday and slowly rising to a peak of activity by mid-week, Wednesday. After that, the flurry settled down until by Friday afternoon, there was a lull and we prepared to welcome the weekend. Friday became “POETS Day,” the “Pooh On Everything Tomorrow’s Saturday” Day.

But Wednesday was Hump Day. And glancing over the list of assignments my live-in 5th grade grandson faces this Wednesday, it remains so to this day.

One thing we have noticed, as a result of the COVID school shutdown last spring, is the dearth of competence in our grandson. He continues with online schooling, though now under a different teacher at a different grade school—District policy, not necessarily our choice. He is ill-equipped to read and understand instructions for his assigned work. Coupled with unreliable internet connections and this school thing has become an ordeal, frustrating to students, adults in the home, and to teachers as well, I imagine.

In short, his school has failed him to this point.

Our child needs almost constant supervision and he barely keeps up with the assignments that are thrown at him. He’s nurturing the independence he will need in later years, but still needs lots of help with concepts. Help sessions are fraught with resentment and resistance. I would like him to seek help when he needs it. But part of the problem might be he has no clear idea when he needs help. He is that lost.

Other parents of elementary students share similar concerns. What in the world are the schools doing? Why conceal important feedback behind educator-ese? Why keep families in the dark about what their children are doing? Why emphasize the speed student read, when they aren’t gleaning meaning from the words? What difference does it make how fast you read if you don’t understand what you are reading?

I suspect this emphasis on speed is to prepare students for making good marks on some test or other but it baffles me that comprehension has never been stressed. Isn’t that the point of reading?

And math—why complicate simple mathematical processes with cluttered diagrams, tables, and explanations that take the entire live class meeting to demonstrate? Just do the problems. I sense that all the extra gobbledygook complicates things to the point that our one-time little math star is beyond confused. He’s clueless.

All this comes at the expense of omitting enrichment subjects like geography, social studies, and science. It’s a crime to deny the study of science to a little guy who answers, “scientist” to the question, “What would you like to be when you grow up?”

To be fair, his 5th grade teacher includes social studies and science, but his exposure up to this point is so minimal it barely exists. Topics and subjects I recall from the elementary school days of my grown children, or my own school days, are left out entirely. I recall classroom competitions to memorize all 50 states and their capitals—in 5th grade! Health classes in 4th grade featured the different physiological systems and their components in the human body. Yet today, nothing. To what end? What are we doing to the children of today?

It may go back to policy changes during the early days of this century called, “No Child Left Behind.” What it has become, in reality, is that no child is offered quality instruction. Schools madly teach so their students can pass tests—in order to keep basic funding for education. And when our state cuts funding to education even further, there is precious little left to offer our public school students.

That’s another reason I support sending Ken White to Topeka. He’s running on a platform advocating the best education for Kansas kids in these trying times. If that raises taxes, so what? It’s an investment in our future we can’t afford to overlook. Beyond that, Ken suggests we need equitable taxation in which everyone—including the very wealthy—pays their fair share. Public services shouldn’t be dumped onto the shoulders of low-income residents.

When I was young there was a huge effort to bolster public education. In an imagined competition between our country and another on the other side of the planet, we stepped up efforts to increase training in math and science. That was the educational atmosphere I grew up in and I’m horrified at the lax attention such enrichment subjects receive today.

What kind of schools will exist in your time, Tanna? I hope there is  sanity restored to the system, and your friends and neighbors realize the value of quality education for all.

With enduring love,

Your seventh generation grandmother

Only in a Leap Year

Well, here we are. Through yet another quirk produced by Leap Day, we are six months to the day past the invigorating launch of Sonata of Elsie Lenore on February 9, 2020.

Today is another Sunday afternoon on the prairie. Only in Leap Years would you find this to be so. Six months to the day, same day of the week.

I know. Who would think of something like that?

I do. It’s a quirky attribute of my mind, looking consciously (or subconsciously) for patterns. Now this doesn’t happen to all months, due to differing lengths of various months. But February to August?

Check.

Dates match days of the week up until August 29. Only in a Leap Year.

And only in this particular Leap Year did the intervening months dissolve into obscurity. The pace of our ratrace life slowed and we sheltered at home, away from all but our most intimate contacts. It’s almost like we collectively took a long nap.

It’s time to wake up.

We’re still mired in the consternation of a deadly pandemic. The sun rises and the sun sets. We get aggravated at each other. The ills of our culture are scrutinized under a microscope. We’ve re-evaluated priorities, taken stock of where we’ve been and where we want to be. And we have little clue how to get there.

Take a deep breath.

After watching a time-leap movie last evening, I started wondering, “What if?” What if I could wrinkle up the last six-months in the space-time continuum (thank you, Madeleine L’Engle) and return to February 9?

 

What a day that was! Busy from dawn to dark with “The Last County-Wide Duet Festival,” hosting guest artists, several writer friends, Elsie’s illustrator,

Cover artist, Onalee Nicklin

concert attendees—and then performing.

At the close of the concert, Sonata of Elsie Lenore was available for the first time and I signed copies for forty minutes straight.

That was an exciting launch. But then, after catching my breath, and recuperating from the madness, before I could even consider my next project, COVID hit.

And we slammed into a wall. The world stopped spinning. And we’ve been in limbo since.

Now jump that wrinkle to today. We’re in no better place with COVID than before, and there’s no end in sight. Yet given the auspicious parallels between February 9 and August 9, I decided to revitalize Elsie with a promotion. Perhaps some of you could use a diversion to get your mind off other things. If that’s the case, I invite you to consider taking a break to read Sonata of Elsie Lenore or even Sundrop Sonata if you have yet to do that.

Toward that end, I have taken some difficult steps for someone with my distress for public scrutiny. Just so you know, I set up a brand new author page on Goodreads, (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8596325.Ann_Christine_Fell),  revised my Amazon author page, (https://www.amazon.com/author/annchristinefell) and started a Facebook page (Ann Christine Fell, author) devoted to posts about books and the writing process.

I invite you to check each of these. If you find it to your liking, follow one or more of these pages. Those of you who are so inclined can post a review, especially if you think somebody else might enjoy reading the tales.

May each of you stay healthy and evade the notorious virus. I’ll see you when we emerge from this cloud of uncertainty and face our new and improved futures.