When I Feel Despair

Sabbaticals are, in theory, about rest and learning. And I have done some of that over the first part of my sabbatical: I went kayaking for the first time in a decade and I stayed a retreat house for a few days and had a beautiful time. 

But the last few weeks have also been punctuated with some really scary times as well. 

Emily and I have three family members who have been hospitalized with covid-19. In the past week, Washington state hospitals have filled to capacity, with more patients right now than any other moment during this pandemic. 

Our experience at the Emergency Room with both my parents was rough. With the exception of one very rude nurse, everyone was incredibly kind and was working as hard as they could, but the hospital was clearly overburdened and understaffed. My dad, suffering from heart complications we didn’t even know about and worsening breathing, sat in the waiting room for 12 hours before a bed opened for him. My mom, who was too weak to stand, was sent home, because she just wasn’t sick enough to take up much needed beds. 

As I waiting to see what would happen, staying near the hospital, everywhere I went was full of homeless camps, live in cars, and whole streets lined with broken down RVs. Thousands of people with nowhere to go. 

By the time I left, patients’ families were lined up at the ER desk, begging for their family members to be seen. People who didn’t believe the pandemic was real were being put on vents, some of my extended family was recommending acquiring unapproved drugs to treat my mother, and hospital staff were clearly run off their feet. 

We are supposedly the wealthiest country in the world, but in the middle of a global pandemic, nearly 50 hospitals closed or filed bankruptcy in 2020 and record numbers of healthcare workers are quitting. Most people I know do not even have a primary care doctor and, even as new variants sweep the country, it is clear that the powers that be are eager to get “back to normal” and keep profit flowing. Misinformation is everywhere, made so much worse by the fact that most Americans simply do not trust their government (which is hardly surprising) and some people are making a killing by spreading intentionally false information. 

The unbridled greed of capitalism has come home to roost and is ushering us into an apocalypse. 

As I write this, the trees outside my window are burned from the heat and some are dying, the ground is parched, and we have not had rain since early June, something we have never experienced. Remember, we live in a rainforest, in the rainiest part of the country. I have spent a lot of time in my garden, but what a year to start a native plants herb garden!

For the past 500 years, wealthy and powerful empire builders have ruthlessly exploited land and people with the single goal of accumulating capital. While this economic system, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe, was supposed to bring us incredible prosperity, it has become very clear that prosperity is only for the few, while the land and people suffer perhaps as never before in history. As billionaire and millionaire fortunes soar, as Jeff Bezos goes for a joyride into space, thousands of people are dying in a pandemic, the land itself is suffering from fire, overheating, and pollution, and the majority of people are sinking into deep poverty and homelessness. 

It is enough to drive me to despair. 

The things that keep me from despair are small. 

My garden of medicinal herbs is thriving, as I learn how to use and make plant based medicine. Many people have taught me what native plants are edible, what plants are medicinal, and passed on knowledge that was held by ancestors for millennia. 

I have continued to perfect my bread and cheese recipes, as I take knowledge passed down to me. I forage in the woods for plants I know like the back of my hand, and the wild berry harvest was incredible this summer. So was the harvest from the ancient black cherry in front of my house. 

It doesn’t seem like a lot. Knowledge of herbs and plants and the land against global capitalism. Ancient wisdom against the earth destroying, life destroying forces of men like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and mining tycoons. 

But our strength is in our numbers. As millions of people join the ranks of the poor, both here in the United States and all around the world, we are legion. We cannot suffer patiently forever.

And its not just humans that are in this fight. The land itself is on our side, with wisdom to share and a new way of living to offer. Indigenous people all over the world are fighting for the rights of our non human relatives, the land itself. I would encourage you all to read more about The Red Deal as a manifesto for a way forward.

We are powerful. The land is powerful. 

Another world just might be possible and, sometimes, I can taste it.

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