Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 8, 2003
Dig in, work your own garden
Seeds we plant today are for our children tomorrow
By SUZANNE ELSTON
Many years ago I had the opportunity to ask Sister Rosalie Bertell what she thought the environmental movement was all about. Bertell - renowned scientist, writer and activist - had been instrumental in cultivating my own life of activism. She said, "The purpose of the environmental movement is to save the seed. Whether it's a fish, or a bird, or a baby, they all come from the seed, all into future time. And if we damage that seed, then there's no place else to get it."
Like all great truths, Bertell's simple analysis tells it all. Our lives are a prelude to the next generation, much like the lives of our parents before us. Each generation has its place in the sun, but ultimately its greatest role is to perform as the warm-up act for what's to follow. Our job is always to set the stage.
Nobody does it betterAs a member of the most self-congratulatory generation in history, I recognize that this is a problem for many aging boomers. To borrow from singer-songwriter Carly Simon, not only are we "so vain," but we have steamrolled through our lives believing that, "Nobody does it better."
At best, this attitude is intimidating to the generations that follow. At its very worst, it's the root cause of many of our environmental woes. We always want more. Unfortunately, we are also the most affluent generation in history and as a result we generally have the resources to get what we want. And therein lies the problem.
Every major environmental issue that we face on this planet has at its root the unsustainable and relentless consumption of resources. Global warming, air and water pollution, to say nothing of the growing garbage crisis, are all problems caused by excess.
And despite all the dire warnings, things are getting worse, not better. A dozen years ago, a mere 20 per cent of the world's population consumed 80 per cent of the world's resources. That 20 per cent is us - the affluent, middle-class of the developed world. A decade later, we now consume a whopping 86 per cent of the world's resources. And then we wonder why our kids aren't very good at sharing.
Not only does this set a lousy example, it poses a major problem for subsequent generations. It also pretty much negates our own existence. In the final analysis, we don't secure our children's future; it is they who secure ours. As Bertell so eloquently pointed out, without a next, there is no now. Scary thought.
As frightening as this realization is, it's also very freeing. It's not about the one with the most toys at the end winning. It's about planting a garden so that next year, the flowers will grow. This simple and liberating truth gives meaning, continuity and purpose to our lives.
Cultivate the gardenI recently received a letter from a school principal who had been instrumental in the lives of our two sons. In his letter he reflected on Voltaire's instructions to his students. Voltaire, revered as one of the most influential writers and philosophers of all time, didn't empower his charges with some grandiose moral directive. He simply told them that they needed to assist in whatever way they could, to "cultivate the garden of our world."
Last month, I took Voltaire's instructions quite literally to heart. On a cold and rainy afternoon, I planted spring bulbs with our daughter, Sarah. While she danced among the fallen leaves, I dug deep into the soil and made a promise with the future. The earth will warm again, spring will return. And although I will be another year older, hopefully I will also be another year wiser. Despite the chill of the day, the process warmed my soul.
Nature never takes anything away that she doesn't return with great bounty. In cultivating our garden, in preparing the stage for the next act to follow, we also give the most profound meaning, substance and joy to our own lives. Dig in.
Recommended websites:For more on the extraordinary life and work of Sister Rosalie Bertell, visit The International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH) website at www.iicph.org.
To learn more about the life and work of Voltaire, visit www.lucidcafe.com/library/95nov/voltaire.html.
Cultivate the garden, plant a seed. Visit the GardenWeb's Garden Bazaar for an easy-to-use directory of garden-related mail order businesses, including a great listing of seed companies. Go to www.gardenbazaar.com/
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