My former home in the Catskill mountains was surrounded by woods. My husband and I stewarded 60 acres, but as we lived on a high shoulder of John’s Mountain, there were hundreds of forested acres above us and to either side of us. Below, leading down into the valley, were more and more homes carved into the hillsides. Scattered along the country highway, was a rural suburbia. In one direction the highway led to town and in the other, another half hour of travel by car took you to the next set of villages. Forty-five minutes away, in a small city that was our county seat, lived about 140,000 souls. It doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination to visualize it all bursting into flames once a major fire took hold under dry conditions. The corridor of devastation would be huge.
My heart, already heavy with sorrow for the plight of our nation, now is also aching for all of my friends on the west coast. Some live in the so far safe but toxic air of Portland, OR, and some in California have survived the destruction of miles and miles and miles of forests, homes, lifeworks, equity, and livelihoods. None of the people I know have lost their lives. For that I am grateful. Some scrambled for temporary dwellings other than FEMA tents set up on golf courses six feet away from one another during the pandemic. Others moved in with adult children or are finding the kindness of other organizations to provide a roof over their heads as the unprecedented high temperatures soared. Climate deniers have met their match beneath orange skies. Again.
We are asked to bear witness in this chaotic time. It is a daily challenge to keep my compassion flowing for so many facing so much loss while staying grounded in the knowledge that I cannot take personal responsibility for changing the outcome of such forces. I can respond to them with care and concern and the small local actions that are available to me. Every aspect of our society and country and world is being affected by global crisis arising from the pandemic, climate change, and subsequent economic deterioration. The individual political leadership varies, but the issues confronting us require strength and wisdom and need for unity that is sadly lacking.
The word witness is derived from Old English, relating to the Anglo Saxon word witan, meaning “a body of wise men” and the origins of the word wit likely come from the Latin verdere “to see, to know” and the ancient Sanskrit word veda meaning “knowledge”. To witness, to see and to know, the devolution of the world as I knew it up close and personal, is a task I am called upon to inhabit. I am graced that today I am not called upon to survive immediate danger but have the opportunity to reflect and witness. Millions are not so fortunate.
May our own capacity to simultaneously stay open and grounded help support the great need for healing and action, strength and surrender, wisdom and love, in ourselves and in our world.