A personal confession. I have largely failed to communicate effectively about what I feel, so strongly, from what I know so thoroughly (albeit from a second-hand perspective). I had three experiences, all as a mere observer, that planted an urgent concern in me that I have never known how to express properly, or wave the right magic wand to make things better.
One was in high school, standing in front of an oven in Dachau, in which bodies of Jews and other ‘enemies of the Third Reich’ were burned. I’ll never forget it. I stood there for maybe 5 minutes, looking at these two little, body-sized ash-holes, and wondering….how the fuck is that possible? That humanity would do this?
The second was in the early 2000s, when I was sitting at work, researching the climate change roots of Darfur and the Sudan crisis. Following the links, I came across a video of people shoveling, yes, shoveling, the bodies of children, and others, off the back of a truck. I watched it about 4 times, closed the door of my office, and wept. And wondered…..how the fuck is that possible? That humanity would do this?
The third was a few years later, again watching, this time Jeremy Jackson’s TED talk — “How we wrecked the oceans.” It broke everything inside me in a way I cannot articulate.
I have always been merely an observer to large-scale tragedy, and am grateful for that fact. But….I do ‘understand’ people’s rage and love and desperate urgency when they see with their own eyes the world dying.
I spent a day, almost a decade ago, with Dr. James Hansen, of climate change science fame. The man is unfathomably hopeful, and so deeply sad it seems to penetrate his every cell. And no wonder. Because since around when I was born, he has understood and researched what the world is now truly just beginning to wake up to, with regards to climate change, and those Holocaust ovens in Dachau being a mere harbinger of things to come, 1000 times over.
Rational discussion is important. But woefully insufficient. And people’s impatience at others’ ideological closedness, when they themselves have stared into the abyss and wept over the bottomless pit of human atrocity, is perfectly, perfectly understandable.
So I’ll take my cue, as always it seems, from Roger Waters’ prescience —
— “All alone, or in twos
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down, outside the wall
Some hand in hand
Some gathered together in bands
The bleeding hearts and the artists
Make their stand
And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger, and fall
After all it’s not easy
Banging your heart against
Some mad bugger’s wall.”
Now, if you will, listen to this woman’s poetry. Witness, for a moment, “bleeding hearts and artists” making their stand. It’s incredible. It’s beautiful. It’s a tiny, tiny window into the world. Look through it for a mere three minutes, with open eyes, and see what you can see.