Elders and Children Lay Their Hands upon Us Now

Isaac, 6, wades into swamp waters in search of frogs

This issue broke me.

^Lydia Wylie-Kellermann reads her piece as part of Geez Out Loud. The audio is an exact reading of the written article.

As we selected and edited and sifted for commas, the words forced me to weep. I held Geez in one hand and scrolled extinction predictions in the other. I got stuck in moments of anxiety. Through the writers and artists that spill through these pages, I was taken apart, re-arranged, and in the end, put back together stronger.

As we prepared the magazine, we had the rare and stunning gift to talk with Joanna Macy. If you don’t know her name, she is an author and teacher, a scholar of Buddhism, and a respected voice in the movements for anti-nuclear resistance and ecology. At 90 years old, she brings with her over six decades of work and wisdom. As I digested each sweet word, I felt my heart churning and shifting. Her spirit and call to each of us lingers throughout the narrative arc of this issue.

As we dialed her number – voices reaching from Michigan to California – I held in my body the emotions that writers had brought and left upon these pages. With scientific studies predicting human extinction within our lifetime, the question poured out with urgency – what do you say to folks who are filled with grief and anxiety?

Her answer was swift and clear: “Of course you’re scared! Look those fears straight in the eye. Don’t try to avoid them. Because something momentous is happening, not only to our climate, but to the whole industrial growth society of corporate capitalism.”

Tears welled in my eyes and I felt myself breathe deep and release.

“But I believe this just had to come. Because it’s devouring our Earth . . . And my own feeling is, the sooner the better. Every extracted mine, every new smoke stack, every new factory, even if they’re renewables – all of them are mining Earth, exhausting Earth, and dimming our hopes.”

This is the place from which this issue begins – we are facing certain collapse of one kind or another. One which this Earth needs. What the collapse looks like depends upon our own listening, imaginations, communities, and our connection to this sweet Earth.

“It’s going to take a big toll because our natural survival skills have been weakened. But they’re not gone, and we are plugged into a powerful and resourceful living planet . . . There is a lot we have to relinquish, but it’s fantastic! So, take a deep breath and don’t close down.”

While my mind swirled through summer with these words, I watched my kids embody this work. They tugged on my shirt pulling me deeper into the woods to gather bones and stones and wild edibles. They caught frogs and covered their bodies in swamp mud. Isaac wakes afraid at night in our house in the city but never to the sound of coyotes in a tent on a summer night. They both walk slowly and quietly with eyes out for creatures and put their fingers gently into their tracks. They know how to kneel and kiss the ground with souls that seem more alive on a bed of rocks or up a tree than in a classroom.

Kateri Boucher, our associate editor, often jokes that she wants Isaac, my six-year-old, on her “apocalypse team.” While it makes us laugh, there is truth that our children become part of this Earth community in a time of shifting. And I am grateful to be in it with them, for they teach me how to slow down, how to see the beauty before me, and help me fall more in love with this Earth. They call me deeper into the work.

Macy reflected upon the question of young folks agonizing over whether to bring children into the world in this moment: “I’m grateful for those who choose mindfully, with clear understanding, to bear children into this time. Because we’re going to need those newcomers coming in through the passage of collapsing society, carrying the grief, and moving forward into a life-sustaining culture that can be born of this.”

Perhaps what I have held onto most since listening to Macy was her rare ability to understand the seriousness of the crisis, and at the same time, walk towards the work with anticipation and even joy.

“I personally feel incredibly grateful to be alive in this moment and to have lived this long that I can take part in this immense possibility of transformation of our life on Earth from a killing society to a radiant renewing society.”

Joanna Macy laid her elder wisdom upon these pages, offering us permission to simultaneously feel the fear that is real and constant and trust ourselves to the work that could be a powerful, beautiful, and joyful transformation. “We don’t want this corporate capitalism to be the last chapter of humanity.”

So, dear readers, tend to your hearts. Take this issue to your own bed of rocks or up a tree or into the streets. Let Joanna Macy’s words wash over you. Let artist Molly Costello’s work remind you of our collective truth. Weep when you need to weep. Trust your fear. Know that we are never alone. And then go outside and fill your arms with Autumn harvest whether it be pulled from your garden, the forest riverbed, or wildflowers on the side of the city highway. Offer gratitude to honey bees and compost and cedar trees. Bask in moments of communal discernment, spirituality, activism, and play. There is tremendous work before us to transform systems of oppression to eco-systems of liberation. Let us rise together facing into the great wind. Friends, we were made for this.

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is editor of Geez magazine. She lives in Detroit, Michigan.

Image credit: Isaac, 6, wades into swamp waters in search of frogs in Port Sanilac, Michigan, 2019, Daniel Wylie-Eggert.

Issue 54

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 54, Fall 2019, Climate Justice.

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Issue 54, Fall 2019

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