A friend
said something to me this week
that I haven’t stopped considering
since.
And I couldn’t if I wanted to
because the subject pops up
everywhere, a fitting phenomenon.
What she said was
that unless there is a deep understanding
of our interdependence with all life on the planet
there can be no climate justice.
That evening,
a book, urged upon me by another friend,
arrived on my front porch
and I read this:

Albert Einstein described our feelings of separateness as a ‘kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.’

Margaret J. Wheatley, writing in So Far From Home, continues:

“Yet Einstein struggled his entire life with the entangled nature of this universe, a world where separateness is indeed an illusion. Einstien could not accept what quantum scientists were discovering, a world where seemingly discrete, separate particles acted as one, even when distant from each other…When two separate particles are correlated and then separated, they continue to act as one. If one changes, the other does so instantly, faster than the speed of light. Entanglement, the term used in physics, is now accepted as the defining characteristic of this universe, not just at the quantum level but at the macroscopic world that we inhabit. ‘The universe,’ as astronomer Sir James Jeans noted, ‘begins to look more like a great thought than like a machine.'”

Wheatley explains then
that we don’t want to know we’re interconnected.
This came as a shock to me.

“Acknowledging interconnectedness is too much of a burden. It requires that we take responsibility for noticing how we affect other people, that we realize how our behaviors and choices impact others, even at a distance. How much easier life is when we don’t worry about these multiple layers of impact and just focus on ourselves.”

Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy
to be overwhelmed
by the impacts of climate change:
even if we know
that burning fossil fuel
emits greenhouse gases
that cause global warming
that causes melting of the ice cap,
extreme weather events
that cause suffering for life on the planet.
We help each other
through the disasters
but we bale out
when it comes to preventing them—
taking on the burden
of making the necessary sacrifices
to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Coming to know deeply our inter-relatedness,
our interdependence,
our life in one living, organic, emerging system
where everything affects something,
as my friend suggests,
must be possible.
We are after all,
at our core,
a species
that cares about one another,
that has in common with all
the desire
for recognition and love.

Cultures less infected by rampant individualism do live out of a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness, says Wheatley. She quotes Archbishop Tutu, explaining the South African word ubuntu. “Ubuntu means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘a person is a person through other people.’ It is not ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong.'”

As I laid down the book
and made my way to the front porch
to find space to ponder these things,
I saw the guinea fowl
up on the roof,
two of them,
waddling,
clattering
back and forth,
walking to the edge,
looking down,
then stepping back,
running back across the roof,
then back to the edge,
repeatedly.

And I remembered where I had read about
our common desire
for recognition and love
—in Peter Gabel’s book,
The Bank Teller and other Essays on the Politics of Meaning):
“…various species must be understood as…engaged in intentional action given direction and meaning by the same desire that animates us: the desire to live…the desire to realize their spirit in the world through the creation of meaning, and the desire for social confirmation and inclusion through recognition ad love.

“The ant carrying a leaf and the spider dropping backward down from the ceiling to anchor a web give a perpetual unity to their organization of dispersed matter that both manifests their presence as existing someones who are ‘in there’ doing the unifying and reveals our commonality of being by virtue of our capacity to comprehend the meaning of what they are up to.”

Suddenly,
it occurred to me:
what if it’s not
that the guineas can’t figure out
how to get down from the roof;
what if they’re afraid
to fly off the roof!
Rather than feeling frustrated
about their repeated behavior,
or superior to them,
something shifted inside:
I felt empathy.

I didn’t go help them down off the roof.
I wondered though
if they mustered the courage themselves,
if my empathy helped;
they flew off the roof
onto the grass below.

We humans
must muster
the courage,
the compassion,
intrinsic in our humanity,
to observe,
to know deeply,
the unity,
the interrelatedness,
the interdependence
that is life.
This is our particular work—
and so,
justice for all.