my trip to the museum

My daughter and I spent the day at the Museum of Nature and Science yesterday. I have trouble conceptualizing time and space, and really big amounts of either usually just send my brain into tilt. So I was happy that the museum exhibits did a nice job of breaking things down to my level of understanding.

For example, I learned that scientists estimate the age of the earth at 4.5 billion years, and that if I started right this minute counting to one billion, it would take me 32 years to get there. So for all practical intents and purposes, I think it's fair to say the earth is REALLY OLD.

I also learned that 99% of all species that have ever existed on this planet are extinct. Ninety nine percent!! And the average temperature has vacillated between great extremes of heat and cold over the earth's lifespan. Apparently extinction and global climate change were occurring long before humanity hit the scene.

Suddenly it seemed sort of quaint and amusing to me that humans, who are basically a microscopic blip on the timeline of our planet, are trying so diligently to prevent global warming and preserve endangered species.

Not that there's anything wrong with trying, if that's what floats your boat! But it seems like it may amount to nothing more (or less!) than building castles in the sand. If you happen to love building castles, or environmental activism, then by all means, go for it with gusto. But do it for the joy of the process, not the outcome. Because the outcome is in the hands of forces far beyond our control.

In the car on the way home, I told my daughter how I used to be quite the Earth Mama. I was big into recycling, saving the environment, stopping war, ethical veganism, yadda yadda yadda. And I told her how sure I had been that people who weren't being 'good stewards of the earth like me' were wrong.

As I spoke, I realized how little of my activism back then came from a place of joy or peace. It mostly came from a place of feeling fearful about the future, and wanting desperately to avoid the destruction of things I held dear. She said, "Gosh mom, you are such a different person now! I'm sure glad you got over that, or I might have followed right in your footsteps!"

I'm glad I got over it, too. And embarrassed about the judgment and arrogance I carried for so many years. *Sigh* I guess we all have our learning curves!

These days, I try to navigate using joy as my North Star, rather than targeting my actions toward preventing catastrophic outcomes from happening. Although I still slip back into prevention mode at times, I've definitely relaxed a lot.

I'm in no way implying that all environmentalists or activists come from a place of fear! I have no doubt that it's possible to be an activist simply because you just love the experience of doing so. But that wasn't the reason I was doing it. And so, many of my ideal-based goals and actions have faded away.

I still recycle and carry cloth shopping bags, but not because I think I'll save the earth by doing so. It just feels good to me to do these things for now. And I no longer try to convince anyone else that they should recycle or conserve, because that kind of interaction is simply not fun for me.

In the big scheme of things, nothing lasts. Everything is only temporary. Genghis Khan's empire crumbled, and even the most carefully preserved mummies eventually decayed. But rather than depressing me, my trip to the museum only increased my motivation to deliberately choose what I want to experience in each moment.

Because when it comes right down to it, history seems to confirm that every creation will eventually be destroyed. So there doesn't seem to be any redeeming justification for suffering in order to create what amounts to a sandcastle.

Mining all the joy I can from each moment is the only thing that seems practical. I happen to love creating some sandcastles, even though I know they will not last. To me, it's fun to write these posts, raise my kids, and bake cookies. So as long as it continues to be fun, I'll keep building. And when the waves level my creations, I'll just start making new ones.


Sandi said...

Wow! I LOVE this one, Karen! Wait...I think I say this to all your posts. Well, suffice it to say, I completely agree with this line of thinking. Having lived with someone who actually got mad at me if I used a plastic bag on occasion, I understand what you mean about it not being from a place of peace or joy. Through that experience, I learned the same thing awhile back...I was not recycling because it felt good, but because I felt guilty. Now, I do it just because it feels good, and I hope they make cool stuff from the recycled materials.

We're basically Whos in Whoville for how much of a difference we can make in our infinitesimally small window of time on this earth. It's arrogant of humans to think that we could possibly be heating up the earth enough by what we're doing to make any difference to the earth at all. It will shake us off like a dog shaking off a fly, if it feels so inclined.

Thanks for being brave enough to voice the unpopular opinion 'round these here parts.

Jeff said...

I loved this post, too!

It really does put things in perspective to think of us humans and our goings-on in relation to all that has come and gone before. Imagine how we must appear from outer space. Probably a bit similar to ants moving about an ant pile. I don't know how ants spend their time - but it must seem pretty big to them. And how much more there is to their universe than they'll ever know!

It was cool to think about.
Thanks for this!

We're all just a bunch of sandcastles. =)

ReachDabbleShine said...

With posts like this, I am reminded of how I found you in the first place, and how great it felt to encounter a like-minded soul out there. I was just picturing that image the other day of "You are here," pointing to a speck in the cosmos, and how comforting that was.

Rock on :-)

karen alonge said...

thanks, you guys! It's wonderful to feel so deeply understood, and I'm grateful that you take the time and energy to post comments here. :)

Anonymous said...

Great article! I agree that some activists can come off as judgmental and fearful and some are just passionate about saving this earth. We are putting about 70 million tons of CO2 in the atmosphere every day! And the normal global warming cycle peak has increased by 2.5 times in temperature. I would say that amounts to more than a "sandcastle". Just my "Who" opinion. : )