I”ve spent years encouraging people to write their stories (A current funded residency is called Our Stories are Yours)
Now the tables are being turned on me and I have been challenged to do new things and push out of my comfort zone.
Consequently I will soon be telling a story in front of an audience in a theater along with younger and professional actors and writers. (Not without a great deal of premature angst!)
The theme is A Delicate Balance (and there is a strict word limit). Here is a glimpse of my unusual childhood.
I grew up on a sugar plantation on the banks of the Demerara River in Guiana. My father was hired to mechanize sugar-production, from clearing the wilderness for planting to transporting the ripe sugar-cane to the factory for transformation into sugar and very potent rum. Before that, most everything was done with manual labor and a few antiquated machines, so wild and beautiful nature was very close to us. Birds sneaked in the windows to plunder unguarded fruit-bowls; snakes, alligators, piranha lived in the nearby waterways; and resident house lizards kept the abundant insects at bay. In those early days, Dad’s “company car” was Tulip, a big Texas mule.
I was a curious child, to my parents’ chagrin, and often gave my nanny the slip to go climbing and exploring. The inevitable scrapes and stings were treated by Seamba, our gardener, with his magical potions from greens and spit. He taught me about the creatures and the plants we lived with and I moved through this glorious world watchfully. I surveyed trees before climbing and looked inside flowers before picking. I learned to see the patterns in our natural surroundings and how everything was connected and it all made sense. I didn’t notice anything strange about my childhood.
What confused me, however, were the different stories that adults told about the forces in the world. Each adult was convinced that their particular explanation was “The Only Way”. Some would warn me to avoid certain places because of the jumbies, or ghosts of the long-dead Dutch settlers. Others invoked different gods with many arms and goddesses festooned with human skulls for protection. However the nuns at my infant-school in town taught us (reinforced with canings) that there is only one stern Father-God with 3 different names. Then, we all prayed to a statue of a woman, a mother, and curiously the nuns were called “mother,” even though none had children.
Hearing the contradictions in the many “One Right Ways” I often turned to my parents – who weren’t much help. My father said that obeah and jumbies don’t work unless you believe them. At occasional meetings with his hundred employees, called after an epidemic of spells laid on big tractors and sometimes on his desk, he explained that the spells were a waste of their money because they didn’t affect him or the machines.
My mother, mildly interested in the different stories, preferred to read about Sikkhism, Baha’I and Buddhism, unlike the other mothers whose taste ran to romances. My parents told me that one day I’d find the right story for me. They didn’t go to church either, although we technically belonged to the High Church of England. I liked going with our cook, Mena, to her country church because of the enthusiastic singing and where sometimes people spoke “in tongues” and even fell to the ground.
Meanwhile, as politeness was the closest thing to religion in our house, I must listen respectfully and never take advantage of my white privilege (which they also explained in detail). Although I was encouraged to ask questions at home, I learned it was a terrible idea to bring these conflicting stories to the nuns at school. I discovered that agreeing with whichever adult was declaiming the “Truth” seemed to settle my confusion and worked well —until I was about 8.
That year, Guiana was chosen for a visit by Our Lady of Fatima, a very important Catholic icon. The whole religious community was aflame with excitement and festivities were planned all over Georgetown, the capital. The nuns were in a dither and couldn’t stop talking about it. Our Lady was being flown into the airport inland from Georgetown and would travel the road alongside our compound.
Her arrival-day dawned, the excitement was palpable. I swung between curiosity and anticipation at seeing the procession up close from our compound-gate. Hundreds of cars containing the faithful, horns honking, music blaring, escorted her from the airport along the dusty, potholed road.
Crowds of the curious and the reverent, dressed in their best, lined the road, sweating in the tropical sun. They cheered when news came that the motorcade had crossed the old draw-bridge by the factory, which regularly caused jams because it had to be opened and closed by hand-crank. In the compound, the mule-boys hurriedly tethered the huge animals by the gate and excitedly ran to see the spectacle. I ran behind them, searching for the best viewing place.
I heard the mule, rather than saw it, felt the impact as everything went black. Texas mules are built like cart-horses and the spooked animal trampled me face-first in the gravel. My limp, unconscious body was covered with a mixture of red dust and blood. People ran for my parents.
Several hundred yards down the one-laned road, my father was demonstrating to his drivers how to get the new bulldozer and its mighty blade out of a much narrower factory-gate. However, the halted motorcade now blocked the road. Dad, used to the Guyanese laissez-faire, settled in the driver’s seat to watch the noisy spectacle. Not for long!
People ran to him screaming and wailing that I was dead. “The mule done mash she! She na breathin’!”“Nooo, she gaspin’!” “She bleedin’ bad!” He realized that there’d been an accident and even though he knew the country people’s heightened sense of drama, he must hurry to see what really had happened. But he couldn’t leave the huge machine where it was.
He dashed to the cars blocking his exit, urgently explained to the drivers that his daughter had a serious accident and would they please move their cars so he could get through. The drivers, apparently imbued with a great sense of importance from Our Lady, and truthfully, probably tired and impatient at the many hold-ups, refused. Normally easy-going, my father yelled that he would give them 3 seconds and then he would “shift the bloody lot of you!” Later, he loved to describe how he jumped back on the machine and arms high, bellowed “three – two – ONE!” dropped the massive blade, revved the engine and roared forward. Screaming drivers and panicked bystanders scrambled to escape his fury!
When I came to later– Daddy, my hero – assured me that he would take me to hospital soon. Because he was worried that I would be incurably scarred by the infectious dust caking my wounds, Mum called SeaAmba in to apply his magic herbs. I faded peacefully away, protected by my parents and and reassured that SeaAmba would bring relief as he always had, even from scorching bites of angy marabuntahs.
Weeks later, with broken ribs mended and thrilled by my heroic father’s rescue, I returned to school. I felt excited and pleased to be back. I soon discovered that the nuns were furious. I was marched to the most feared nun of all, Mother de Sales. She informed me that Dad had dared to interrupt the Procession of Our Lady of Fatima. It was doubly insulting because he wasn’t a Catholic nor a churchgoer. She then announced that his soul would burn in everlasting Hell-Fires. Only I, with the nuns’ guidance, could save him.
I was terrified! I knew what Hell-Fires were like because every harvest, the cane-fields were set alight and I couldn’t help watching, mesmerized by a sea of flames from horizon to horizon. Horrified, I could hear the agonized shrieks of creatures caught in the fire. Even though Dad would reassure me that our house was safe, I couldn’t wait for the fires to end.
Now, I had to prevent that from happening to him – but how?
Mother de Sales explained how I must say special prayers for him, very often. I had to bring money to her for particular miraculous medals. These were to be hidden on and around him, BUT – I could never tell my parents or it wouldn’t work.
I carefully followed her instructions over the weeks with mounting anxiety. Had I prayed enough? Was it the right prayer at the right time? Did I put enough medals in his shoes, his pockets, his wallet? Should I have hidden more medals in his office? I was frantic. I stole money to buy more medals and lied when asked if I had planted them. The delicate balance of trying to appear normal while tortured by panic and fear, disintegrated..
I began to faint often- on the way to school,- when the school-bus was late, – if I hadn’t finished my homework. Finally my parents discovered the cause of my distress. They announced that I was going to have an extra-long summer vacation starting immediately.
That first vacation day, feeling lonely, I watched the school-bus leave without me. But the other kids were envious and Daddy emphasized that, not only did obeah not work on him, but he wasn’t going to Hell. Knowing that he could protect me from Mother de Sales and create a vacation in the middle of school, helped balance the internal see-sawing that had haunted me night and day.
After that, I contentedly waved the school-bus goodbye —-and went off for the day’s adventure.
We are all deeply affected by the inhuman separation of children from parents at the US border.
In solidarity with those parents and to give them voice where they may not have been able to speak, I want to share my own experience. The circumstances were different for me and my two children, but we all have similar feelings of loss regardless of culture, language, or who takes our children. This happened long ago but that separation has marked all our lives.
“The door creaked open onto the darkened bedroom as the two little sisters huddled together in the doorway. One of them toddled towards the sleeping figure “Mama, I had a bad dream!”
I roll over and stretch out my arms to enfold her shivering little body and to draw her and her sister into my warm bed. My arms closed on – nothing – and I awoke with a start. As I groggily look around the room, at the closed door, my brain desperately sorts out dream from reality. With reality comes despair; despair that colors every day a bad dream. To the lonely sound of the fog horn out in the Bay, I prepare to get up and endure another day without them.
Each day stretches out into a grey landscape that I numbly navigate; I move through my life like a ghost, staring out at a world I no longer recognize – solid cement steps seethe like ants nests, the ground in the park heaves with the sobs passing through that possess more power than my small body can contain. Only the sound of children’s voices piece the blanket that grief has thrown over me as it guides me towards the edge. Each day feeling a little more dissolved, I wish that I could finish it and go completely mad.
Other days I walk and walk, trying to exhaust myself so I can sleep dreamlessly and forget for a short time, but every where I go the city is inscribed with the stories of our lives. The place where we held a 3rd birthday party just a few weeks before they disappeared, the merry-go-round that they loved to ride, screaming and laughing with joy, everything has changed.
Now the music that had invited us for rides, curls around me and pulls me to the edge, but I cannot make myself go over, cannot tumble down into oblivion, even though my whole being yearns for it. There is no escape! Instead some hard, unyielding rock at my core forces me to go on, placing one foot in front of the other, feeling the wind blowing through the emptiness that had been my heart, as surely as the breeze moves the hair around my face.
Sometimes I hear a child’s voice calling “Mo-hom” and certain that it is C, I turn in reply– to nothing; I feel S lean against me and begin to slide my arm around – nothing. A bad, unending dream!
Before, I used to play a little head-game as a sort of insurance against or preparation for the trials that life can bring. I would ask myself, what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. Always the answer “to lose my children!”
And now the worst has happened.”
Thank you for reading
I wish I knew who had written the following:
“Do not be Daunted
By the enormity
Of the World’s grief.
Love Mercy –Now!
You are not obligated
To complete the work,
But neither are you
Free to abandon it!”
Thanks to Ageless Authors <www.agelessauthors.com> here’s my story in Parents, For Better or For Worse!
A Proper Mother
She sits, as erect as a ballerina, in a small boat rocking on a dark brown channel between fields of high growing sugar-cane. Cradling a .22 light rifle, my mother surveys the waters for the alligator who attacked the women working neck-deep clearing the water of fast growing weeds. My father, a retired professional soldier, would chuckle as he told how she cleaned up the ones his bullets missed. It is no mean feat to shoot an alligator in its eye from a rocking boat. Miss and the bullets may ricochet off its hide and enrage the beast.
My mother was an interesting woman, adventurous, fun, gregarious, adaptable, strong willed and English! English in the proper kind of way where loud emotions have no place in your lexicon. I have never heard her admit to being angry – irritated perhaps, disappointed, but never angry, she was too refined for such a gross emotion.
How did this privileged young woman brought up with nannies and servants and birthday cruises in the Mediterranean and training as a ballet dancer come to be in the South American tropics, thousands of miles away from her family?
Love! — and war!
The European war changed everything. The large city where her family lived had thousands of tons of bombs dropped on it and survival became paramount as she watched neighborhoods and workplaces levelled repeatedly and friends and neighbors disappearing without a trace. She was never confident that her home would still be there when she returned from work each day.
On a fateful blacked-out train ride during the war she met a young soldier, looking splendid, she later described, in his red and navy dress uniform. They spoke in person and later by letter, and fell in love.
7 weeks later they met and married, despite the fact she was engaged to someone else. This was not so unusual in wartime, I hear.
In the bleak aftermath of the war, my father took a job in a remote backwater in the West Indies and my mother went to live, for the first time, with her husband and their three year old daughter on a sugar plantation.
The British are famous for being stoic and this trait was steeled by the privations of arial warfare, and scarcity that continued long after peace was declared. My mother’s stoicism was essential when she found herself living in a strange, wild land with enormous insects, snakes, poisonous spitting frogs inhabiting the garden and in nearby rivers, alligators and piranha. The nightly drone of clouds of mosquitoes lulled us to sleep under the mosquito netting. The social mores and customs of traditional plantation life bewildered my mother and marked her as different, as much in her own mind as those of the planters.
Instead of theatre and galleries and grand hotels to which she was used, there was one radio station and, after a 45 minute drive, three cinemas. There was one dentist and an alcoholic doctor who was rarely sober enough to provide the family health care.
All of these she seemed to adapt to without much complaint and came to love the country and the Guyanese people.
She couldn’t bear the inactivity of the expected privileged life of wives living on a whites-only compound on a sugar plantation — nor their gossip — so she busied herself breathing life into the local chapter of the Blind Society. Her mission became locating adults and children who were blind and getting them to medical care.
This took her into little country villages to confront horrible and untreated accidents and impoverished living conditions. She didn’t seem to care that she was not supposed to be there. Like a blood-hound, she just followed up on reports of a child blinded by a pencil stuck in his eye or an old man living in a pit with cardboard for a roof.
Oh, and she couldn’t drive, so my dad assigned her a driver who also acted as a scout. In spite of the tradition that it was dangerous for women and girls to leave the compound unescorted, she and driver, Khan, set off several days a week in search of those who needed help. This prompted regular stream of grateful relatives lining up at our door on Sundays to thank her in person.
She believed very strongly that with privilege comes responsibility and lived her life that way. For all of these wonderful traits, which taught me to work to make life better for others, there were also times when my mother was possessed by the Ice Queen. I dreaded them!
The Ice Queen frosted all around her and she only communicated in the quietest, tersest, most formal way. When my mother was “upset” with you, you were consigned to what my father humorously referred to as “The Dog House”. This could last for days or longer and was torture for me as, like my father, I tended to blow up when angry and then move on to a better state of mind. I remember as a teenager out of deep frustration after a week or so in the realms of the Ice Queen, holding my mother’s shoulders so she had to face me and imploring “Talk to me! For God’s sake, Talk to me!” -with little effect.
There is a saying in the field of aging that you become more of who you are. This is reinforced by maxims that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks (which has been disproved countless times). However, it is very different to learn a new skill than struggling to unravel and rework a lifetime habit of coping behavior.
Many years later, my mother, now widowed and crippled with arthritis, lived in a small town in England. My inherited sense of adventure had taken me to live in California. I managed thrice-yearly visits to her, each of about a week’s duration. On one of these visits, I knew I had upset her and, with sinking feelings, resigned myself to spending the last precious days of my visit with the Ice Queen.
Mother was in her mid-eighties by then and I had no hope of anything changing. So I prepared myself for a frigid remainder of my visit. As I watched her carefully (as only children are wont to do) I saw her struggling with her habitual response, realizing that we only had a short time left together. I had no bets on who would triumph – I knew of old that the Ice Queen would reign. To my amazement the frost visibly melted, she put whatever was bothering her on one side and in a couple of hours we were off to having fun together.
I have never forgotten that event and as I move further into my own aging I am convinced that I can continue to grow and change – that I can wrestle with my own ways of coping that don’t work anymore and can learn new ways. What a wonderful lesson.
A Portrait of Mother by Maureen Kellen-Taylor
A couple of months ago my daughter sent me information on a writing competition for people over the age of 65. An organization called Ageless Authors (www.agelessauthors.com) who describe themselves as a collaborative “effort to recognize your vitality, your strength and your craft. It is designed to highlight the work of writers and artists 65 years of age and older. Ageless Authors is the brainchild of two highly experienced writer/editors – Ginnie Bivona and Larry Upshaw — who have launched a crusade on behalf of senior creativity”.
Of course I love anything that recognizes the talents and creativity that continue throughout our aging. This organization is staffed by devoted volunteers who love writing and want to encourage as many people to write as they can.
Coincidentally, a past client who is in his nineties and writes daily (and also who wrote the most beautifully passionate poem about love and loss that I have read for many years) recently asked me to read some of his writing and give feedback.
I have also recently been involved in a project called Dor Vador, an intergenerational storytelling project with USCDavis School of Gerontology and Professor George Shannon. The objective was to strengthen cultural identity. In Dor Vador we filmed older adults telling stories about when they felt most connected to their Jewish culture, then showed the stories to k-7 graders in Jewish schools and asked the children to illustrate the stories they watched. Finally storytellers and students met and discussed the stories and drawings and asked each other questions. It was exciting and satisfying each time it happened.
Consequently, when I heard about Ageless Authors and how they hold writing competitions then publish the stories of the winners, I was very enthusiastic. My daughter – being very persuasive – talked me into submitting a story – I chose the category Parents, For Better or Worse, wrote about my mother and for the first time sent in a story to the competition.
Now everyone has stories about their mothers (and there are a few urban legends floating around our family about me!) so I will share mine in a different post.
If you are interested look up the organization and start practicing your writing to submit for the next competition http://www.agelessauthors.com.
By the way I fund out today that I was awarded 3rd place – amazing for a first-timer.
And I feel like its my birthday (My birthday really is Fireworks night!)
What do you think about birthdays?
Numbers have such an important influence on our lives. And sometimes have no bearing other than to reinforce expectations – and unfounded ones at that.
We ask little children how old they are – perhaps because we don’t know how else to start a conversation. They soon learn to answer proudly “I am four!” But what does “four” tell us about that child and how he or she is being shaped by their experience? Have they had opportunities to learn to swim or climb or look closely at insects or run very fast over a field or learn alphabet, counting or any of a myriad things?
Every so often, I think about the number of years I have lived, because I am at an age when people say “Are you still working?” Whatever they mean by that! (“Are you too poor to stop?” or ”Aren’t you getting tired of the job?” maybe “Aren’t you too old?” or even “Lucky you! I wish I were”)
This week two women friends quietly confided they were approaching birthdays that end in zeros.
I note that those are the ones that give you pause because the number preceding the zero is about to get bigger than it has been ever before.
Lithe and fresh-faced, with a habitual look of mischief, my first friend announced that she was going to publicly stay in the 9 year preceding her birthday. Then she strapped on her bike helmet and pedaled off on the several miles’ ride home. She lives fully. Health is important to her, but not only her own. She has made her home as environmentally sustainable as possible; she just finished working on building a Habitat for Humanity home project; and her job involves her in research for sorely needed treatment for a fearful disease. Why should it matter how old she is?
The other woman (with a different birthday) is a mover and shaker who has steadily expanded a well-known non-profit to serve increasing numbers of people in innovative and needed ways. She is also writing a book on her area of expertise. Sweet-faced with kind-eyes, she looks like someone you want to have a good long conversation with. And many people do! She confided with a wry smile that her sister told her that they are old ladies and she should start behaving like one.
I remembered a time when visiting family in England and being told that I scandalized the locals because they learned I was in graduate school and had 2 children. I was in my mid-thirties, but by their standards I was too old to be a student. I remember how grateful I was for living in California where I would not have that prevalent attitude wearing me down.
I am also fortunate to work in the field of aging where I meet people who I know are in their 70, 80 and 90’s who sparkle, who are passionate about something, sing at bus-stops and who don’t buy in to the toxic message that tells us to act our age.
When my daughter was in the 2nd grade, her tap-dancing class was scheduled to perform on the hospital geriatric ward where I worked then. I asked her teacher if I should prepare the kids for the audience with whom they would be mixing after the performance. I learned that my daughter had already oriented her class and I was curious to know what she told them about the geriatric patients.
“Just look past their wrinkles and you will see nice people with really cool stories!”
Great advice for us all, for meeting someone new, for collaborating in a professional arena – and for looking in the mirror each morning.
A few researchers have interesting things to say about the mindset of “acting your age.” In several studies Ellen Langer, Ph.D. put older assisted-living residents in environments that replicated those of their youth. When they weren’t reminded by their surroundings that they were old, their physical and emotional behaviors changed to more youthful ones (including a formerly wheelchair bound man walking with a cane).
Although the results of her studies were often discounted, one of her colleagues, Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. Medical and Clinical Director at Harvard’s McLean Hospital said of Ellen Langer “She’s one of the people that really gets it”….”That health and illness are much more rooted in our minds and our hearts and how we experience ourselves in the world than our models even begin to understand”. (1)
It is tough to hold onto our strengths and vitality in the face of the prejudices of a society suffering from Decline Fatalism (the assumption that we are doomed to decline when we reach a certain age). The age at which decline is supposed to start differs from culture to culture (note earlier reference to suburban British attitudes).
Dr Gene Cohen demonstrated that participants in their eighties who worked consistently in programs with artists made improvements in various areas and did not decline as their peers in control groups did. (Creativity and Aging)
Experiencing ourselves as being passionately interested individuals involved in a number of interests or exciting work can get us through any number of those birthdays ending in zero in fine style.
Hooray for the French who may have coined the phrase “being of an uncertain age”. If we act and think like 30 or 40 year olds combined with the experience of 60 or 70 year olds, of course other people will be uncertain of our age.
And in the doing of it all, we will be age-uncertain, too.
Just saw a FB post from an artist whose work I hope to show next post – absolutely showing us examples…
- Grierson, Bruce “In What if Age is Nothing but a Mindset?” http://nyti.ms/1taWx2s NY Times 2014
- “..those involved in the weekly participatory art programs,at the one and two year follow-up assessments, reported: (A) better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication usage; (B) more positive responses on the mental health measures; (C) more involvement in overall activities.” Gene Cohen, M.D. The Creativity and Aging Study. <www.creativeaging.org/publications-research/research/creativity…>
In the spirit of Janus, the two-headed Roman god after whom January was named, this post looks back, reflects, and looks forward with some inspiration to share….
How dismantling social institutions can actually benefit us.
Last year, when I witnessed in horror the dismantling of major elements of a democracy, I felt afraid and helpless. I must confess that there were too many weeks of feeling depressed and immobilized. Only when I remembered learning that movement can help loosen the clinging, stifling, isolating fabric of depression could I shake myself free. Being a builder by nature, I decided I must re-frame (1.) and look at how the dismantling of social institutions could become an advantage to the citizens of this country – We the People! It is horrifying to see the destruction, but what cannot be destroyed is experience, is vision, is the energy to build anew. How can we build a better program there, and there and…? (read education system, healthcare, poverty abatement (2.), and/or the issue that most concerns you)
So forward to 2018…..
I know how much we can accomplish by collaboration. Working together we can discern the flaws and shortcomings of our institutions and, with creativity and experience and love, clarify the vision needed to build better ones.
2017 Divide and Conquer
Looking back, I am most struck by the danger of complete, unswerving identification with the political party we voted for and the polarization that overwhelms the possibilities of working together for the good of all (and in this way keeping democracy alive). We all have the same basic needs. People of all political stripes suffer in the same ways, want the best for our children and ourselves. We all feel hunger, suffer poverty and may be homeless. We all become ill and need proper healthcare; red states and blue states alike are destroyed by fire, storms and floods. In spite of that, there is a huge effort in every sector of society to emphasize the differences. A divided people is easily manipulated and dominated. Divide…and Conquer! Looking at history we see the long lasting effects of this colonizing strategy on countries all over the world – the Middle East, Asian subcontinent, African continent — and the US. Millions of people have been, and still are, living with the results.
We have to ask ourselves who benefits from this “time-honored” colonial strategy of Divide and Conquer? When we are fighting each other we don’t have time and energy to fight FOR what we all need.
2018 — Building visions
My wish for 2018 is that each one of us chooses a particular problem and focuses on possible end goals. In doing so, we must accept that we all have similar human needs and desires regardless of our political stripe. Once we acknowledge that all the problems facing us are so complex that they require many different approaches. If we can accept that there is not “one right way”, we may become unified by building a vision together and understanding the feasibility of a variety of different methods to attain it. Remembering that we are all interconnected and so the gains, as well as the misfortunes of other groups, affect us. Once we each take that step, and look for allies, wherever they are doing that work of visioning and taking action. I believe that by banding together on the “issue” closest to our hearts, we can create a vision of the desired end result even though the means may differ.
Vision and Dreaming
A vision can be a pole star – we may not be sure how to get somewhere but we know where we want to arrive. Cathedrals, great pyramids, temples and democracy all grew from dreams that became visions. Many cathedral/pyramid/etc. builders did not live long enough to see the finish of their dream, but sharing in the vision, believing in the process and in its benefit to their children’s children kept them going. I imagine that they took delight in the process, and comfort in knowing they belonged to a group that was making something beautiful. They each did what they could, propelled by the vision.
We builders like to turn ideas into reality, and have learned the importance of a vision, a trust in the process, and how necessary it is to examine the stories we tell ourselves and others about the world, life and meaning.
Stories are how vision is shared, either intentionally or unconsciously. The stories we tell ourselves can strengthen the vision and our belief in it – or undermine it. Listening to the stories we tell ourselves, and where necessary changing them, is vital.(1.) Determining which stories coming at us through media, marketing, speeches, etc. are designed to make us afraid and to disempower us. Once we recognize this, it is easier to discard them. We cannot let what earlier generations believed in, strived to build and inspired other countries to follow, just slide away into oblivion because of our own disempowering stories (excuses) that we were too busy, too powerless, too much in denial, or did not have enough money.
Listening to others’ stories that help us imagine the possibilities is vital. There are enough of us who know what it is like to be educated, to freely speak, to vote, to have decent health care and enough to eat. There are enough of us who have honed critical thinking so that we can unravel the stories embedded in propaganda and the marketing of confusion. There are enough of us who remember that we had healthy food, free clean water and who experienced the wonder of land, waters and skies thick with wildlife. There are enough of us to build visions to live towards. Let’s pool all this knowledge and experience. Colonialism does not like empowered populations!
My goal is to encourage you, the reader, to join me in picking an issue. Together we will imagine the story behind recent progress (noted below), be inspired – and, act in the spirit of “well if they can do it with so few resources and advantages, then we can, too!”
(Thank you Andrew Hervey, in Future Crunch December 5 2016 – 99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year https://medium.com/future-crunch/99-reasons-why-2016-has-been-a-great-year-for-humanity-8420debc2823)
We can research which persons and organizations are dedicated to working towards the vision that is important to each of us and join them. (As an aside, I feel it is important for maintaining our drive, our sanity and our energies to narrow our focus. This includes the difficult task of ignoring pleas for help or dire warnings of doom from elsewhere. We can do that if we remind ourselves that there are many others who want to build there.)
Questions: What is your most important concern? What doesn’t currently work in that area? What is your vision of what it could be?
For example, talking to a friend who described that she is one of many who find healthcare too expensive, who can’t afford all the expenses of getting sick or needing surgery. She mentioned that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare – what a silly name) was a stepping stone towards something better. I asked her what that something better would. She replied with little hesitation “Single Payer Healthcare”. That is the beginning of a vision. Where will she find allies working on that?
Some inspiration to contemplate
- A new study from the world’s leading health journal reported that the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990. Guardian
- Liberia was officially cleared of Ebola, meaning there are now no known cases of the deadly tropical virus left in West Africa. Vanguard
- 93% of kids around the world learned to read and write this year. That’s the highest proportion in human history. And the gender gap between girls and boys in school narrowed in 2016 too. Medium
- In 1990, more than 60% of people in East Asia lived in extreme poverty. As of 2016, that proportion has dropped to 3.5%. Vox
My issue is Climate Change; one inspiration is “In July, more than 800,000 volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in one day. The country is planning on reforesting 12% of its land. National Geographic” and my allies back California Senate Bill 100. (3)
It feels better to look around and see what others have accomplished, are working on currently and then add our own energy to the cause.
It feels better to add to our vision than to feel powerless and upset at each destructive act.
We can use the memories and experiences of all to build something that is even better than we have had, BUT first, each of us must construct a vision of what we want to happen. It takes courage and like the cathedral builders, know that even if we do not see it come to fruition in our lifetime, what we are building is beautiful and necessary.
What is your vision?
- The Frameworks Institute is very helpful. Also Arran Stibbe’s books on Ecolinguistics.
- Income: Timebanks <Timebanksusa.org> Social Security for All or Universal Basic Income <universalbasicincome.org/index.html>
- California Senate Bill 100 for 100% Renewable Electricity by 2045
A gift of hope and encouragement from Future Crunch – https://medium.com/future-crunch/99-reasons-2017-was-a-good-year-d119d0c32d19
Take a breath between them. Re-read. Celebrate and savor each one!(my bolding)
Happy New Year and be Brave in 2018.
“Here are 99 of the best stories from this year that you probably missed.
- This year, the World Health Organisation unveiled a new vaccine that’s cheap and effective enough to end cholera, one of humanity’s greatest ever killers. New York Times
- Cancer deaths have dropped by 25% in the United States since 1991, saving more than 2 million lives. Breast cancer deaths have fallen by 39%, saving the lives of 322,600 women. Time
- Zika all but disappeared in 2017. Cases plummeted in Latin America and the Caribbean, and most people in those places are now immune. Science Mag
- A new report showed that the world’s assault on tropical diseases is working. A massive, five year international effort has saved millions of lives, and countries are now signing up for more. STAT
- Soft drink sales in the United States dropped for the 12th year in a row, thanks to consumer education and new sugar taxes aimed at stemming obesity and diabetes. Reuters
- Trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, was eliminated as a public health problem in Oman and Morocco, and Mexico became the first country in the Americas to eliminate it. NBC
- Meet Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin, two eye doctors responsible for helping restore sight to 4 million people in two dozen countries, including North Korea and Ethiopia. CBS
- Premature deaths for the world’s four biggest noncommunicable diseases — cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory — have declined by 16% since 2000. World Bank
- Global abortion rates have fallen from around 40 procedures per 1,000 women in the early 1990s, to 35 procedures per 1,000 women today. In the United States, abortion rates have reached their lowest level since 1973. Vox
- In July, UNAIDS, revealed that for the first time in history, half of all people on the planet with HIV are now getting treatment, and that AIDS deaths have dropped by half since 2005. Science Mag
- There were only 26 cases of Guinea worm in 2017, down from 3.5 million cases in 21 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986. Devex
- The United Kingdom announced a 20% fall in the incidence of dementia over the past two decades, meaning 40,000 fewer people are being affected every year. iNews
- Thanks to better access to clean water and sanitation, the number of children around the world who are dying from diarrhoea has fallen by a third since 2005. BBC
- Leprosy is now easily treatable. The number of worldwide cases has dropped by 97% since 1985, and a new plan has set 2020 as the target for the end of the disease. New York Times
- In October, new research from the Center for Disease Control revealed that between 2000 and 2016, the measles vaccine saved 20.4 million lives.
- And on the 17th November, the WHO said that global deaths from tuberculosis have fallen by 37% since 2000, saving an estimated 53 million lives. These astonishing achievements were of course, reported by every media outlet on the planet.
- Chile set aside 11 million acres of land for national parks in Patagonia, following the largest ever private land donation from a private entity to a country. Smithsonian
- China invested more than $100 billion into treating and preventing water pollution, and launched nearly 8,000 water clean-up projects in the first half of 2017. Reuters
- The United States, Russia, China and the European Union reached a deal to make the Arctic off-limits to commercial fishers for the next 16 years. Science Mag
- In July, 1.5 million people in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh set a new Guinness record for reforestation by planting more than 67 million trees in a 12 hour period. RT
- A province in Pakistan announced it has planted 1 billion trees in two years, in response to the terrible floods of 2015. Independent
- In August, the Canadian government and Inuit groups signed a deal to create the ‘Serengeti of the Arctic’ by far the largest marine reserve in the country’s history. Globe & Mail
- A month later, one of the world’s largest marine parks was created off the coast of Easter Island, and will protect 142 species, including 27 threatened with extinction. Guardian
- The EU imposed new, stricter limits on pollutants such as nitrogen, sulphur, mercury and particulates that will apply to all 2,900 of Europe’s large power plants. Reuters
- China carried out its largest ever crackdown on pollution, reprimanding, fining or jailing officials in 80,000 factories, 40% of the country’s total. NPR
- Indonesia pledged $1 billion to clean up its seas from plastic, Kenya announced a ban on plastic bags, and Chile said it will ban them in its coastal cities (30 countries now have existing or impending bans in place). ABC
- Eleven countries continued their plan to build a wall of trees from east to west across Africa in order to push back the desert. In Senegal, it’s already working. BBC World Hacks
- Cameroon committed to restoring over 12 million hectares of forest in the Congo Basin, and Brazil started a project to plan 73 million trees, the largest tropical reforestation project in history. Fast Co.
- In November, Mexico’s government created a new 148,000 square kilometer ocean reserve, ‘the Galapagos of North America’ for the conservation of hundreds of species, including rays, humpback whales, sea turtles, lizards and migratory birds. Reuters
- In 2017, the ozone hole shrunk to its smallest size since 1988, the year Bobby McFerrin topped the charts with ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy.’ CNET
- The International Energy Agency announced that nearly 1.2 billion people around the world have gained access to electricity in the last 16 years.
- In February, the World Bank published new figures showing that 20 years ago, the average malnourished person on planet Earth consumed 155 fewer calories per day than they needed. Today, that number is down to 88.
- Since 2000, life expectancy in Rwanda is up from 49 to 64, child mortality is down more than two-thirds, maternal mortality is down nearly 80%, and HIV/AIDS prevalence is down from 13% to 3%. Mail & Guardian
- In the last three years, the number of people in China living below the poverty line decreased from 99 million to 43.4 million. And since 2010, income inequality has been falling steadily. Quartz
- 275 million Indians gained access to proper sanitation between 2014 and 2017. Gates Notes
- In 1991 more than 40% of Bangladesh lived in extreme poverty. The World Bank said this year that the number has now dropped to 14% (equating to 50 million fewer people). Quartz
- The United States’ official poverty rate reached 12.7%, the lowest level since the end of the global financial crisis. And the child-poverty rate reached an all time low, dropping to 15.6%. The Atlantic
- Between 2005 and 2017, Afghanistan built 16,000 schools, the nation-wide literacy rate increased by 5%, and the youth literacy rate increased by more than 16%. USAID
- In October, a new report by the International Labour Organisation revealed that global child labour has plummeted. In 2016, there were 98 million fewer boys and girls being exploited than in 2000. CS Monitor
- Sweden committed to phasing out all carbon emissions by 2045, and the country’s largest pension fund divested from six companies that violate the Paris Agreement, including Exxon, Gazprom and TransCanada. CleanTechnica
- New figures at the beginning of the year showed that the global coal industry is taking a hammering. A 48% drop in pre-construction activity, a 62% drop in construction starts and a 19% drop in ongoing construction. CoalSwarm
- In May, a shareholder rebellion forced ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, to start reporting on the effect of preventing climate change on its bottom line. Washington Post
- France stopped granting all licences for oil and gas exploration, and said it will phase out all production by 2040, a major transition towards clean energy being driven by the new Macron government. Bloomberg
- Deutsche Bank, one of the coal industry’s biggest financiers, announced it would stop financing all new coal projects. Ouch. Mining.com
- Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest pile of money on the planet, announced they were officially divesting from all fossil fuels, and the global insurance industry has pulled $20 billion. Telegraph
- In 2017, the United Kingdom, France and Finland all agreed to ban the sale of any new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
- China continued its all out war on coal, stopping construction on more than 150GW of coal plants, and laying off more than 700,000 coal workers since 2014. CleanTechnica
- In one of the great climate change victories of our time, TransCanada terminated its tar sands pipeline, triggering a $1 billion loss and ending an epic 4 year battle between politicians, big oil, environmentalists and indigenous communities. Calgary Herald
- On the eve of one of their major feast days, 40 Catholic institutions on five different continents announced the largest ever religious divestment from fossil fuels. Catholic Reporter
- In the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, carbon emissions fell to the lowest levels since 1894, and on the 21st of April the country did not burn coal for the first time in 140 years. Independent UK
- In November, a new global alliance of more than 20 countries, including the UK, France, Mexico, Canada and Finland, committed to ending their use of coal before 2030. BBC
- The cost of solar and wind plummeted by more than 25% in 2017, shifting the global clean energy industry on its axis. Think Progress
- The cost of solar plants in the United States dropped by 30% in one year and in the United Kingdom, the price of offshore wind dropped by half in less than two years.
- Solar energy is now responsible for one in every 50 new jobs created in the United States, and the clean energy sector is growing at 12 times the rate of the rest of the economy. CNBC
- In June, South Korea announced a major U-turn on energy, shifting one of the world’s staunchest supporters of coal and nuclear power toward natural gas and renewables. Reuters
- JP Morgan Chase said it will source 100% of its energy from renewables by 2020 and will facilitate $200 billion in clean financing through 2025. PV Tech
- General Motors believes “the future is all-electric” Volkswagen announced it’s investing 70 billion euros and “putting its full force behind a shift into electric cars” and Volvo said that starting in 2019 it will only make fully electric or hybrid cars “the end of the combustion engine-powered car.” Atlantic
- China is going to install 54GW of solar by the end of 2017, more than any country has ever previously deployed in a single year, and doubled their 2020 goal to 213 GW. PV Magazine
- The world’s largest carbon emitter also announced that their Paris Agreement pledges will now be met a decade ahead of schedule, with emissions forecast to peak in 2018. Australian Financial Review
- Following in China’s footsteps, India more than doubled its solar installations in 2017, accounting for more than 40% of new capacity, the largest addition to the grid of any energy source. Quartz
- A new report from the European Union said that between 1990 and 2016 the continent cut its carbon emissions by 23% while the economy grew by 53%. So much for the propaganda of fossil fuel lobbyists… CleanTechnica
- On the 21st January 2017, the Women’s March became the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history. Washington Post
- On International Women’s Day 2017, Iceland became the first country in the world to make equal pay compulsory by law. Two days later, India passed a bill giving every working woman in the country 26 weeks of compulsory maternity leave. Economic Times
- Thanks to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, suicide attempts by LGBT teenagers have decreased by 14% in US high schools since 2014. Guardian
- In May, Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled in favour of allowing same-sex marriage, becoming the first Asian country to do so. SCMP
- Saudi Arabia said women would no longer need male permission to travel or study. A few months later, women received the right to drive. BBC
- New figures showed that the gender pay gap in the United States has narrowed from 36% in 1980 to 17% today. For young women the gap has narrowed even further, and now stands at 10%. Pew Research
- Women now occupy 23% of parliamentary seats around the world, up from 12% in 1997. The Middle East and North Africa have seen a fourfold increase in that time. World Bank
- As plunging crime closed prisons across the Netherlands, the government started turning them into housing and cultural hubs for ten of thousands of refugees instead. Fast Company
- New data showed that young people are officially less racist than old people. The worldwide trend is towards towards less discrimination on the grounds of skin tone or caste. Quartz
- 17% of newlyweds in the United States now marry someone of a different race or ethnicity, a fivefold increase since 1967, when interracial marriage was legalised. Pew Research
- The immigrant population of the US (people born in another country) has now reached 43.7 million people, one out of every eight residents, the highest proportion in 106 years. CIS
- Canada became the 9th country to allow a third gender, rather than male or female, on passports and government documents. That came two months after country number 8, Pakistan. Vox
- India’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling confirming the right of the country’s LGBTQ people to express their sexuality without discrimination. Independent UK
- California became the first US state to legally recognise nonbinary genders, and Germany’s top court ruled that lawmakers must legally recognise a third gender from birth. CNN
- In December, Australia became the 26th country to legalise same sex marriage. A wonderful victory, hard fought for by so many brave people. About bloody time. ABC
- Global deaths from terrorism dropped by 22% from their peak in 2014, thanks to significant declines in four of the five countries most impacted: Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. ReliefWeb
- After quintupling between 1974 and 2007, the imprisonment rate in the United States is now dropping in a majority of states. New York Times
- The number of executions recorded worldwide fell by 37% since 2015. The decline was largely driven by fewer deaths recorded in Iran and Pakistan. BBC
- You didn’t see this story in the evening news — in June, we heard that the homicide rate in Australia has dropped to one victim per 100,000 people, the lowest ever recorded. Guardian
- Rates of violent crime and property crime have dropped by around 50% in the United States since 1990, yet a majority of people still believe it’s gotten worse. Pew Research
- A new report showed that incidents of bullying and the number of violent attacks in American public schools have decreased significantly since 2010. Associated Press
- The European Union passed fresh rules that make it more difficult for armed groups to finance their activities through the sale of conflict minerals. Mining.com
- Heckler & Koch, the world’s deadliest arms manufacturer, announced it would end gun sales to countries falling short of corruption and democracy standards. Deutsche Welle
- Nepal passed a law criminalising an ancient Hindu practice called chhaupadi that banishes women from the home during menstruation and after childbirth. Al Jazeera
- Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon repealed provisions in their penal codes that allow rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. Al Jazeera
- India’s Supreme Court outlawed non-consensual marital sex with child brides, and raised the age of sexual consent for all women to 18. CNN
- Snow leopards have been on the endangered list since 1972. In 2017, they were taken off, as the wild population has now increased to more than 10,000 animals. BBC
- In March, in a big win for two of the world’s most endangered big cats, the Amur leopard and tiger, China approved a national park 60% larger than Yellowstone. HuffPost
- Taiwan became the first Asian country to ban the eating of cats and dogs, with new laws imposing fines for consumption and jail time for killing and cruelty. National Geographic
- A decrease in pollution in the Ganges brought Gangetic dolphins, one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world, back from the brink of extinction. Hindustan Times
- Germany banned fur farming. This followed similar decisions by Japan and Croatia within the last year. A victory that was two decades in the making. Well done PETA.
- Vietnam agreed to end bear farming, and said it would work with Animals Asia to rescue 1,000 remaining caged animals.
- The British government unveiled new plans to require compulsory CCTV cameras in all slaughterhouses, in order to enforce laws against animal cruelty. Guardian
- In more than 60 regions across the globe, more populations of large sea turtles are improving than declining, a big change from a decade or two ago. Associated Press
- China agreed to ban the domestic ivory trade in 2017. By mid year, the price of raw ivory in Asia had fallen by around half. And in October, the UK government banned the sale and export of all ivory items. BBC
- Gucci announced it would go fur-free in 2018 and auction off all remaining fur items. It follows in the footsteps of Armani, which went fur free in 2016. Harper’s Bazaar
- One of China’s richest women, He Qiaonv, announced a $2 billion donation for wildlife conservation, the largest environmental philanthropic pledge of all time. Bloomberg
- The Indian government officially banned the use of all wild animals in circus performances. One month later, the Italian parliament did the same. 40 nations now have animal circus bans in place. Inhabit
If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we need to change the stories we tell ourselves.
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