Tag Archive for Terry Tempest Williams

People, Without Borders

My mother lives in Arizona where the reality of children streaming into the country looms large. “What’s to be done?” she asked when we spoke the other day, as horrified by border vigilantes as I am but recognizing that we are indeed faced with a mounting humanitarian crisis. I suggested that any real solution required addressing the causes of the situation. “You should run for President,” she said. I pointed out that logic and reason are losing characteristics when it comes to politics in this country and we left it at that.

Sean Hannity and Gov. Rick Perry on the Texas border.

The awful thing is that as the U.S. copes with the immediate crisis along our southern border, it is unlikely to do much to address the root causes, let alone acknowledge our complicity in their creation. And if history is any guide, whatever action we do take will probably make things worse, particularly if we don’t immediately reign in the citizen militias who are the equivalent of a match in a dry forest.

Israelis watching bombing of Gaza.

Israelis watching bombing of Gaza.

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, the defense of borders, which are usually drawn at the whim of defeating forces, exacts a terrible toll. Not only are we seeing that in this country but also in Israel and Gaza, where Israeli forces, when they are feeling charitable, give Gazan civilians minutes to flee before bombing their homes, while Israeli citizens sit in lawn chairs on the bluff and cheer as bombs go off, as if they were watching an action film instead of children, real live children, being killed.

While ruminating in despair about this and the long list of other seriously awful things that are happening in the world, I was reminded of a story that Terry Tempest Williams tells in, Finding Beauty In A Broken World where she writes about learning to make mosaics.  A mosaic, she learns, “is a conversation between what is broken.”

To say that we have a lot of broken pieces in this world would be an understatement.  But they will not be made whole at the point of a gun, or by arrogance, greed and power.

When you are faced with a shattered mess, it is not possible to put the pieces back together as they were before. Just ask Humpty Dumpty–the King’s horses and men couldn’t fix the broken egg (and the back story probably involved the horses trampling on his shell and making matters worse).  Which, in an eggshell, is a pretty apt parable for where we are in this world at this moment.

What is required in this broken world is to have the necessary conversations in order to figure out how we can put things together, not as they were before because that neither can or should happen, but in a way that what was broken becomes part of a new whole that, just like Williams’ mosaics, recognizes the beauty of each broken piece.

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Finding Strength In The Extraordinary Ordinary

For more than ten years now, I have devoted the overwhelming majority of my work as a writer and activist to shining a light on the many heinous guises of misogyny, especially on the impact violence has on women’s lives, and also on efforts to stop that violence and to empower women. Now and again I have also tackled other topics, including environmental issues such as global warming and climate change because as we confront environmental disaster after environmental disaster at a rapidly snowballing speed, the need to address these issues as an integral part of my work feels urgently compelling, yet words more often than not painfully fail me.

What precisely can one say about ocean acidification, leaking methane from the thawing Arctic, seas that are rising faster than expected, the loss of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, (and those are just stories that have crossed my digital desk in the last week alone)?  And how precisely can one say what should be said about these overwhelming climactic disasters in a way that accurately portrays the proper measures of terror, and the tears that should be streaming down our faces as we see the result of our misguided dominion while offering  hope or perhaps vision?  On most days, I neither know or begin to feel adequate to that task.

Not being one to suffer writer’s block or despairing inertia quietly, I have floundered about trying to find inspiration and strength, a grounded path towards coherent expression.  I have buried myself in the words of Terry Tempest Williams and tackled a lengthy biography of Rachel Carson. I cheer Sandra Steingraber’s call to action about fracking and Bill McKibben’s relentless tar sands pushback and the solar-powered Thanksgiving in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

And mostly I have walked away from the computer and staggered out into the natural world, needing to take in huge gulps of (I hesitate to say fresh) air.  I have sat beside the Atlantic Ocean and watched the tides roll in and out, seagulls standing watch at the water’s edge.  I’ve walked along the Potomac, visited pueblos and mountains and craters in the Arizona desert and high country. And some days, I simply walk the streets of my suburban neighborhood.

The community in which I live is perhaps the embodiment of a sub-urban design train wreck–houses crammed in every available space, open spaces in the wrong places, dysfunctional streets where people live isolated lives.  But even in this embodiment of Malvina Reynolds’ little boxes on the hillside “all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same”, I have looked up at the trees, and found wonder and love and grounded strength in these branches of heart filling beauty.

And where words come sometimes only haltingly, I have taken to letting my camera portray the extraordinary that we all too often fail to see, let alone honor in the ordinary of our days.

The words will continue, we must talk about what has been, what is and what will be.  But we must also see the tree branches above, and feel the breezes from the sea, the hot desert sun and the path below our feet.

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