The following is part of a series of reflections CEC’s CEO Sigrid Wright occasionally sends our leadership team about the current state of the world, including some curated poems.
A few years ago I was standing on an overlook at Mt. Calvary monastery in the hills above Montecito, in a labyrinth circle laid out with stones. I was midway through a 3-day retreat with my cohort of nonprofit leaders, looking at the ridge across from the monastery, watching the winds ignite the coals of a small bonfire some kids had buried the night before.
Within a few hours, the wind-whipped Tea Fire would make the hills look like the side of a volcano, torching 210 homes, scorching the ground I was standing on, and taking the Benedictine monastery down to ash and stone. It would incinerate the bed where I’d slept the night before, the overstuffed chair where I’d spent the afternoon, the garden bench where my husband had once proposed.
But I didn’t know of these losses yet. Instead, at that moment I was watching palm trees on the next ridge explode like Roman candles, trying to judge the seriousness of the emergency and how long it would last.
Recently it’s felt like we’ve been living in a near-constant state of emergency. In fact I have on my nightstand a book of that title – Living in the Long Emergency, which I have yet to read. The truth is that the joint crises of a global pandemic, a deeply flawed economic system, structural racism, fraying political institutions, and growing climate chaos don’t leave me with a lot of enthusiasm for this as a bedtime story.
Now, were this book entitled Living in the Long Emergence – that I’d be interested in. I’d give up a few hours of sleep to explore that reframe, nuancing two words with the etymological root emergere: to rise up or rise out. The societal bonfires of the past decades – human health, economic, social, racial, political, environmental – have now unarguably grown into one large Complex Fire and are forcing us to seriously assess the sanity of returning to “normal.” What new creation myth do we want to rise up from the ashes?
I find myself turning to one of our great storytellers, Joseph Campbell. “The only myth that’s going to be worth thinking about,” he once told Bill Moyers, “is one that’s talking about the planet. Not this city, not these people, but the planet and everybody on it.”
The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other | excerpt | William Stafford
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
More of My Reflections.
- Future Ancestors – I imagine us, collectively absorbing the feeling of loss and the power of forces brought on by a changing climate, and then working to pull up systemic problems by their roots.
- The Right to Breathe – And as George Floyd’s breath was crushed from him, any remaining pretext that the current social and economic code merits an obligation to play by its distorted rules was, in my mind, extinguished
- Navigating by New Constellations – Lately, with our collective navigational instruments on the blink, dials spinning uselessly, I awake from sleep and find myself curled into the shape of a question mark, as if to reflect back all the unknowns of this time.
- Burn Your Maps – After months of pandemic-induced disruption at so many levels, I find it liberating to realize that the times we are in may just be asking us to let go of where we wish we were, set a new course, and burn our old maps for fuel.