Of the window phrases around my shop, “restore the earth” might seem the most daunting request for a small shop like mine. It is a goal that challenges me to choose to work with vendors who care for the earth, who seek to have minimal impact upon the environment, or who are actively involved in making repairs to the earth’s environment. I know I can’t “restore the earth” alone, but I must participate in it.
However, recent events, acts of unimaginable violence, leave my heart aching for ways to heal the earth’s inhabitants as well. The damage to human relationships has been done through many many years of separation, segregation, discrimination, and a host of isms that have divided us from our very human nature. I do believe that love does win, but hatred continues to battle on. If I am to be true about what it means to restore the earth, I must look seriously at how I have hurt those who inhabit it also.
My privilege, as a middle-class business owner, provides me with some sense of security and respect in this world. While I have plenty to worry about when it comes to keeping the doors of my café open, there are some worries that I’ll never have to face. I have the skin color of the white majority population. I am a male, raised within a society that values male power. I was born into a family that used the dominant English language to communicate. I have the good fortune of generally good health and mobility so that I have been able to care for myself.
With these privileges comes a sense of duty. Sadly, for many who carry my same privileges, that duty is set aside and is replaced with a growing greed for power and status. The circumstances that instilled my sense of duty are both complex and simple. I grew up with experiences that helped me understand, accept and celebrate those who were different from me in many ways. I learned that there was always more that we shared in common, than how we differed. I developed enough empathy that I could understand my own role in creating differences. There are many people who deserve the thanks for making this happen.
I thank a man whose past includes a lot of pain and hardship. He spent time separated from community through time in prison. His only way to wholeness has been to place himself into positive, caring relationships with people both like and very different from himself. He has been open, honest and trusting. In return he is gaining a new sense of himself and his role within community. He is actively re-storing his place among people whom he had hurt. It is an act of justice for us to welcome him in.
Just as we are finding ways to restore the earth’s environment through soil restoration, pollution controls, and lifestyle changes, we can find ways to repair the damages done to relationships within the human race. We must cultivate new relationships the same way we seek to bring better growing practices to farming. We must plant healthy seeds of non-violent behavior, acceptance and tolerance into people of all ages with the same desires we have to remove chemicals from our soils. We must build communities of trust that nurture relationships with the same love we give to tending for the plants and animals in our care.
The earth’s own de-constructive power offers a quite different framework. Imagine the storms that rumble through during the summers. Consider the earthquakes, floods, and windstorms that bring massive damage to the earth naturally. At first look it is easy to label these as “violent” acts. However, within natural cycles, each of these has very intended positive, constructive uses that provide balance and harmony within nature. Electrical lighting fires restore space for root dwellers to restart and remove monocultures in forests by allowing new species to have room to grow. Floods saturate the land with nutrients and move groundwater and seeds into areas left dry for long stretches, bringing new life. Winds prune out weakened limbs and encourage stronger growth. And through it all decay and decomposition become building blocks for future life cycles. Balance doesn’t actually mean things stay the same; it’s about finding a position where all things support each other within ever-changing cycles.
We, and I speak especially for myself here, must continue to find ways to see our current human relationship ills as places where growth can and will occur. Small steps, forward movement, can be celebrated. I hold out hope for a stronger community where a young, black woman, once homeless, can be offered the support needed to hold a steady job and pay her own rent for an apartment. From this “home” she can begin to consider a more stable life for herself and a better future ahead. It is happening here and it is worth celebrating. We all play a role in this restoration effort. Find your role, feel the privilege of being involved in positive change. Every small act of courage is a step along the path.