Dear President Biden,
Lately I’ve been hanging out at work (via Zoom-like platforms) with way more young people than old people. I’m humbled and grateful to say that they’ve become my teachers. So many of them are living out loud and questioning what is and why is it is that what is is the way it is and pushing for how it can be made into something different, something much better for all of us.
During one of these conversations one of them mentioned Estalita’s Library and Bookstore, a Black and brown owned justice-focused community bookstore and library. It’s near where we work and once COVID is in the rearview mirror and I’m back on site for work at least part of the time, I plan to make many pilgrimages to Estalita’s.
In the meantime, I bought two books from them online – two real books that I can thumb through and underline and write (in pencil) in the margins and actually interact with – Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Iljeoma Oluo and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. They’re sort of an unlikely pair, but both are fundamentally about saving the planet and reclaiming real life from the death-grip of White patriarchy. Oluo’s approach is bracing, incisive, and righteously angry while Wall Kimmerer’s approach is intimate, metaphorical, and gently, but intensely insistent.
I finished Mediocre a week ago and have handed it off to my daughter. I highly recommend it – Oluo has much to teach us about the insidious, dangerous nature of this system most of us prop up, that most of us take for granted as the natural order of things even as it’s choking the life out of us. It’s a pretty damn brilliant book.
I’m only about a fifth of the way through Braiding Sweetgrass and I’ve already fallen in love with Wall Kimmerer’s storytelling. I am, however, going to have to take a break from it for a bit since Laura got me a library book on the Kindle, Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia by Thomas Healy, which has to be read before it turns into a pumpkin in 21 days. It’s ok, though, because it’ll be nice to come back to Sweetgrass and take some deep breaths. I think Soul City is going to be a tough read.
There are two things from Sweetgrass that I want to share with you. They’re both from the chapter entitled A Mother’s Work, which I read this evening while I waited for Laura and our daughter to get home from their mini-outing (to buy more damn masks). The main storyline in this chapter is about how Wall Kimmerer spent years (and years) revitalizing a cold spring pond on her land because in addition to wanting two trees big enough for tree houses and purple bedrooms, her daughters wanted a pond to swim in. The process of pond revitalizing was one of trial and error, which eventually settled into years of raking years’ worth of muck and algae from the bottom of the half-acre pond. In reflecting on when she figured out that this was what it was going to take and that she’d have to get very wet and very mucky very often, she said this:
“Transformation is not accomplished by tentative wading at the edge.” (pg. 89)
Amen. Right? That’s what I was telling you yesterday.
The second thing to lift up comes at the very end of the chapter when she’s talking about how her pond drains down to her neighbor’s pond. Here she says:
“Everybody lives downstream.” (pg. 97)
Amen again. If we could all wrap our hearts around this reality nugget it would be truly transformational because we would instinctively, and willingly, downshift into something sustainable.
May we be safe enough until we figure our way out of the toxic mess we’ve made.
May we be willing to listen to the truth tellers.
May we be strong now for the seventh generation’s health.
May we accept that we need to be transformed and that we need to downshift very, very soon.