Five hours west of here, indigenous people from 300 tribes around the world have gathered in prayer and protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Each week more tribes announce their solidarity with the people of Standing Rock, offering up songs of healing and prayers for the protection of the earth’s water. A fellow resident of the St. Croix Valley took her three young daughters to deliver winter supplies to those who have put their regular lives on hold to stand in protection of this essential Missouri River watershed. Others remain committed to oil and the short term promises it makes. Tension builds, and armed police continue to gather in opposition while the main steam media remains quiet.
The wind has been blowing the last few days, ushering in the colder air from the north to let summer know the time for blossoming and long days of outdoor warmth are over. The forecast for tonight calls for a freeze, and I brought in all of the vegetables and fruits that still lingered in the fields. The water from the hose I used to wash the leeks and potatoes felt like ice, and I moved quickly to get the job done.
There will be a presidential election in one month’s time, and America is torn. Some are clear in their choice, while others see no good option. Some have stopped paying attention entirely, taking to the woods to find a version of reality that makes sense. Some say voting for a third-party is throwing away your vote, while others remind us that thinking like that is why we still only hope for change. At this point, they are all right.
After getting the harvest in, I went back out to the woodshed to get some of the wood that we’d stacked when the temperature was still 90 degrees. I hurried as I loaded up the wheelbarrow and maneuvered it down to the house to fill the woodbox. Evening this time of year grows dark quicker than am ready for, and I wanted to be warm and comfortable.
A hurricane is battering the southeastern Atlantic coast right now, after causing plenty of destruction in the poverty-stricken island nation of Haiti. Here on U.S. soil, some people flee, while others batten down the hatches to ride out the storm at home. Millions are without power, and there was just a news story on NPR about how the energy grid “still can’t withstand nature.” People in Haiti mourn and wonder what it would be like to have the choice to flee or stay. And perhaps many don’t wonder. There’s a Haitian proverb that says “the rocks in the water don’t know how the rocks in the sun feel.” I don’t know what it’s like to be without choice. Too many people don’t know what it’s like to have options.
After coming inside, I made a simple dinner of pasta and just picked broccoli and green beans. While the pasta boiled, I took some small sticks, a bit of paper and some dryer lint, lit a match and watched a small flame start to build. I had to keep the door of the wood stove open for a while to give the fire enough oxygen to burn, and at one point it almost went out when I went back to the kitchen to finishing cooking. I came back just in time to blow on the embers and coax a bit of life back into the fire before it went cold. I added some more small sticks and a dry log, and after another few minutes the flames started to dance, and eventually it started to give off heat. I sat down with my dinner and a glass of wine and watched the fire while the wind continued to howl outside.
It’s no secret that the world is broken. We know how to fix many of our problems, but we don’t know how to let ourselves do what needs to be done to see the solutions through. We are afraid of what could change, and those of us with choices want to be comfortable. We want to watch the news and cluck our tongues at the comedy of politics and post things on Facebook that reflect our views. If we have enough privilege, and if we are being truly honest, we probably worry more about our personal issues than the outcome of the election. If we are in a life situation that puts us in poverty or in a population that endures continual discrimination and violence, perhaps we see hopelessness. Or anger. Or neither because we are focused on surviving another day in a culture that seems intent on chewing us up and spitting us out.
Thomas Merton once wrote “there is in all things is a hidden wholeness.” Despite the broken parts, the world retains something akin to wholeness. People who were once at war find common ground in protecting that which is sacred to all of life. Pockets of strength build as people who are willing to be brave give voice to those things that don’t seem right. People flee or people stay, but whatever their choice (or lack thereof) the disaster brings healing into focus. There is ugliness, hate, and dysfunction in abundance, but so to is there the capacity to tend a small fire in a way that allows it to give comfort when the winds of our time insist on continuing to howl.
Hidden wholeness. Now the trick is to figure out how to make this wholeness we have a little more hospitable for those who don’t have embers on which to blow.