For Now

The small town in which we live is nestled at the most southern edge oa the Pacific Northwest. It is also just inside of the northern most edge of the Californian eco system, allowing for the most varied tree populations I have yet to see in any one place, shy of an arboretum.  I am constantly astounded to see huge Monterey Cyprus growing next to Cedar, palm trees next to Ponderosa Pine next to bougainvillea. Giant Oaks next to fern next to Redwoods and massive Sequoias. It’s a feast of range, beauty and resilience.

The town used to boast a ‘Tree of the Year’ competition and the winner would be awarded a plaque with the name of the tree in Latin and English as well as the year it was chosen to be the best. A Westminster ‘Tree’ show of sorts but less competitive. We often do a neighborhood walk that takes in five of those magnificent beings all within an hour, and even though it is an urban walk on predominantly paved streets, the trees are nothing less than glorious and never fail to stop in my tracks to admire and be awed.

Being in the western part of the US, this town is most vulnerable to both fire and earthquakes. Should either of these occur, the trees would surely be hard hit. An irreplaceable loss which I would mourn deeply as I would any damage that would come to our town and home, as I already do the creatures and critters cancelled out of life. We can all scream ‘climate change’ till we are blue or green but it becomes more personal each year, more real, because these days there are no more places to hide.

On new-year’s eve, a phone call with a good girlfriend in Boulder, CO was interrupted when her power went out. Unbeknown to us at that time, a fierce fire had broken out, the power was cut as 80-100 mph winds ripped through the flat prairie lands burning 1000 family homes and condos with it, in just four hours, just north of Boulder, Colorado, 1000 families with no home to come back to. It happened so fast that many people did not get a chance to even grab their passports, their computers, their photos or their pets.

The closer to home these events occur the more real they become. It’s not the floods or the tornadoes there, it’s not yet the comet there, as in the famed movie, ‘Don’t look Up’. It’s friends in Colorado who are mopping up in shock and trauma and sometimes it’s even closer. Meanwhile, here now, we are snug in our home which is warm because the power is on, the air is fresh because the fires have not yet arrived for the season. The wind is not whipped up. We are safe, for now.

Every time we leave for the summer to go North to Canada, I do a private walk around the house and garden. I say goodbye. In my mind there is the understanding that if the winds this year blow the fires towards us rather than away, this house, this neighborhood, these trees, this town may not be here when we return. I admire the house’s good and very unusual bones, the way it is bright no matter how dark the day, the unique angles and rooflines.

I do a quiet and loving bow to art made by friends or other artists I have known. I stop to admire the first painting I ever bought for myself and still admire. The subject is captivating, this old crone, half naked with deep wise sad eyes, surrounded by small yellow canaries, perched on her naked shoulders, her aged breasts hanging close to her rounded belly that has born the whole world, and I wished to be like her when I grew up. Present, wise, open handed. I am now grown to be her age and regrettably am nothing like her at all, still, she is my companion and inspiration. She sits with her hands open. No matter how much we love to hold and grasp at certainties, they like quicksand trickle from our closed fists, leaving us again, like her, open handed.

I take a quiet farewell. Yet that night, before our departure, I listen to the patter on the roof happy the rains have come, moistening the dry earth after months of none. All is well for now. ‘For now’ allows me to let my fears for the future be background. It allows me to love and appreciate this moment, the trees, the small miraculous ordinary unfolding of a day when the sun finally shows her glorious face after ten days of fog, and the back patch of scraggy lawn that had dozens of Juncos flittering around as if they had just found a playground worthy of noisy continuous comment.

‘For now’ is a term that highlights the provisional. The term is itself a confront, a warning against assuming any continuity. I am not alone in wanting continuity, in being a future oriented creature. It is hardwired into the human psyche. I am not alone in yearning for some measure of security. “Security is a kind of shorthand expression for the fact that most people prefer a condition of assured expectation for their lives and property” says Sheldon Wolin who is thought to be the premier political scientist of the 20th century. If we can’t look ahead with some confidence that all will be well, that there is a pocket of safety for us and those younger than us, we are disquieted at the deepest level of our being. Beyond the words that so many cannot articulate and may not even be in touch with consciously, there is a massive disquietude in the minds and hearts of so many of us who feel that ‘for now’ is our only foothold on a perilous journey.

A friend who researches and presents informational and experiential workshops on climate change for those brave souls who wish to befriend their discomfort with the uncertainties now and ahead, tells me that 74% of young people aged 16-24 from all over the planet are afraid for their future, and 49% of that same age group say that it impacts their day-to-day life.

I hear that some of our northern Canadian neighbors worry for us who live south of the border. They are concerned for the fate of our country which is clearly unraveling and becoming more ungovernable, hateful and ugly. We who live here, see the everyday evidence of this and are worried too, but even that reasonable worry pales in comparison to the horror and heartbreak of all that is unfolding Ukraine at this time, and the implications and consequences for the whole world. Yet on this day, right here, on this sunny Thursday morning, all is quiet and peaceable, for now.

Yet many of us are privileged to have a great ‘for now’. I certainly do. I have food, shelter, warmth, beauty and love. My ‘for now’ is a source of gratitude and sometimes incredulity. Those whose asses have ever grazed a meditation cushion, let alone landed firmly on said cushion would surely assert, with good reason and sometimes an accompanying smugness, that it is always thus, we only have the Now. While I accept this to be actually true, I rile against the simplicity.

‘Now’ feels more complex, more nuanced, since our ‘now’ usually also includes our hope for the possibility of a future. And our ‘now’ always carries inherent within it, everything that has preceded it. We live our ‘now’ with every moment and memory of all that is already embedded within us on a cellular level. Our now inevitably includes some notion of the future. Why else would we bother going to the grocery store, to buy food, pay our mortgage or invest in our children’s education, plan a trip, or plant a carrot.

Living without a clear trust in tomorrow could and sometimes does propel us into living a life that is less future oriented, it can encourage us to fully appreciate each and every goodness, every remaining bounty and beauty of this glorious planet, however, living without the trust in a tomorrow does also seem to create a host of other responses which range from depression, despair, inertia, mania, super denial, greed, indeed anything other than the meditative here/now presence which has sent so many of my generation, myself included, running to the feet of gurus or meditation teachers and is sending the younger ones into fear, depression and anxiety.

I would posit that we be a little kinder with our scared selves and a lot more compassionate with the fact of who we are. That ‘future’ is hard wired into us as humans, as is the desire that we have a future, live another day, whether it was a productive day, a miserable or a happy day.  I will posit that we have a better chance of living our ‘for now’ lives more fully, if we can honestly include our fears, our sadness, our anger our hopelessness and our anxieties. These are measures and feelings that say we care, we love life, we want its continuance for ourselves and the generations that follow us. These feelings are the love letters that are written in the ‘for now’ age in which we find ourselves.

When we share these feelings with others, we get to hold hands with a world that is larger than just our fears or isolation. It so often reminds us to be more grateful for all that we already have, and sometimes it also propels us to engage more fully in creative solutions or actions that might move the needle in some area of life. As Daniell Sherrell says in his tender and worthy book Warmth: Coming of age at the end of our World, what if we did “not accept the vision of our future as a single road leading to a burning city. Compromised as it is, it still seems to me more like a fan, stretching out in front of us in a swath of possible outcomes, most of them scary, maybe, but none of them entirely predictable”.

In this lovely town of a thousand different trees, we live the many reminders of our changing environment; devastating fires that wiped out 2,400 homes in mere hours, unprecedented heat, and weeks of air so toxic from neighboring fires, so that it became unhealthy to leave the house, much as it has been again with the last Covid variant.

I have been fortunate to spend the last two years in an intimate climate group that would gather, month after month, to sit in the hard science around climate change and its drivers, as well as the hard feelings that arise in response to that science, and the spacious realization that these feelings do not have to translate into meaningful action to validate themselves. They are sufficient unto themselves.

We have become friends by sharing our vulnerabilities, through exploring deeply what it really means to be resilient psychically as well as through our communities. We have listened to each other as we each cycled through our unique and common gamut of responses. More than once we wondered why we even bothered to meet, since we were not striving to mitigate anything, except the internal landscape within ourselves. Yet we kept meeting and still do.

There is value, there is goodness and there is increasing necessity of finding our way into the complexities of living in the ‘for now’ age when we feel ourselves so alive yet so prosaically doomed. We juggle the preciousness of this moment, as well as the planets long term health and viability, escalating social unrest and our own inevitable demise. We are certainly not the first generation to juggle many elements, but we are the ones, who blinded by years of peace and prosperity, did not anticipate that we would have anything more to juggle than our own end. We now know that no matter how much we may yearn or mourn for the perceived stability of yesterday, that is not what this time in our precious life can offer us.

May we all find our way, as the earth in the northern hemisphere pitches once more towards the renewal of spring.

Love to you,