On the night of May 26, my husband called me downstairs. He had been checking the radar weather map, and when the wind and lightning started, he knew I would be safer on the first floor of our house. "This is going to be a bad one," he said. Neither of us acknowledged that the horrific images of Joplin, Missouri were forefront in our minds.
Fear gripped me as we huddled against the storm, the likes of which I had never before experienced. You know what I'm talking about. You were there too.
When the worst was over, I went back to bed but slept fitfully. This is just the beginning, I thought. Since 2005, two major cities in America have been obliterated. California and Texas burn periodically, the South is experiencing unprecedented drought, floods have ravaged China and Pakistan, record-breaking temperatures and "critically dry" soil plague European farmers, and on June 2 the Massachusetts governor declared a state of emergency in the aftermath of two tornadoes that "shocked emergency officials with their suddenness and violence," according to an AP report.
It took me several days to regain my equilibrium. You see, I have The Waking Up Syndrome.
In January 2008 eco-psychologists Sarah Anne Edwards and Linda Buzzell coined that term in an article published in Hope Dance magazine. (Visit hopedance.org.) It opens with a quotation from T.S. Eliot: "Humankind cannot bear very much reality," and delineates six stages in a person's attempt to process and cope with the realities of climate change, including denial; semi-consciousness; the moment of realization; feeling despair, hopelessness and powerlessness; and acceptance, empowerment and action.
Waking up to the reality of a broken world, they write, "is a chronic, on-going, permanent situation that will not only not improve, but actually continue to worsen and become more uncomfortable in the foreseeable future . . . This is what author James Howard Kunstler calls 'The Long Emergency'.”
Fear couples with despair as I watch the world I love come undone, the world that sustains me physically and spiritually. In a perfect example of the triumph of ideology over reason, our politicians can muster the will to extend the Patriot Act, but can't seem to address the real terror of Climate Change even in the face of mounting devastation.
My antidote for fear and despair is hope—even if hope is a delusion, even if it may be too late. My hope is that people will continue to wake up and join like-minded neighbors in small acts that can result in big change. Barbara Ehrenreich calls it "civic courage." Here in our dynamic community, you might consider joining a Transition Towns group, or learning about permaculture, or shopping at local businesses, or patronizing farmers markets, going organic, going vegetarian, driving less, talking with neighbors, taking a child on a hike, joining a protest against fossil fuel extraction, writing a letter, donating time or money to a local environmental group, using less energy, wanting fewer material objects...