Let me tell you a story.
It’s a story about our land – our home – and our ability to live peaceful, harmonious, respectful lives upon it and in partnership with it.
And it’s a story about the big bad political structures and corporate institutions that conspire to stop us doing so, using the unspeakable, impenetrable black magic of bureaucracy and backhanders to bind our best efforts with frustration and fatigue.
Oh, you already know that one?
Ok, then maybe you’re ready for the next chapter, about what comes after?
Fine. Sit down, make yourselves comfortable.
But you should know that this isn’t a Hollywood story, about a heroic individual battling the faceless hordes of bureaucratic ennui and struggling towards an inevitable triumph.
No, this is a collective adventure, and a story I have to try to tell from the inside, as it occurs. Although perhaps it could be all the more powerful, for that?
This story really matters to me. To us.
It is the story of our lives. It seems you know the early chapters. The ones where the twisted power of the demons seems unstoppable, where calling the future uncertain sounds recklessly optimistic, where our humble efforts seem insignificant, and where our all-powerful superhero is nowhere to be seen.
And you know too that, as in the most gripping stories of our childhood, the stakes are higher even than death. Though death is at stake; for us, for our loved ones.
Higher than the destruction of our entire communities. Though their destruction is ongoing.
Maybe higher, even, than extinction: that death of birth itself. Though that too hangs in the balance, for us and for others.
Here I sense some of your eyes widen. What could be worse than that?
But some of you nod sadly, knowing that I speak of ‘undeath’. That living death that hollows all joy, pleasure and meaning from our souls even as our bodies continue to feast on all around us. The realm of zombies, of vampires.
This is our story, so we all know it is no fiction. Rather, it is the true story that some of us don’t dare to tell our children, because we know they will be scared, and that we may have no honest way to reassure them.
You should know that I do not speak of death lightly. Two years ago I lost both my closest partner and mentor, and my fiancée, both suddenly, and within a few weeks of each other. Shortly afterwards, my father suffered a double heart attack and barely survived.
I am coming to know a little of death, of its causes, and of what it leaves behind. And I am learning a great deal.
Eventually, painfully, I am beginning to learn what Nature tells us so clearly, and what our culture fights so hard to ignore.
That death is not evil. That death has its rightful place, as the partner of life, and it always will.
But that undeath does not. Undeath is the enemy of nature and of life. The enemy of art and of love.
It is the hollow-eyed, insatiable hunger that works to consume all that we hold dear, and takes no pleasure in that work.
But I am getting ahead of myself…
Instead, let me speak a little to those who feel their unity with their lover, Earth.
Those who step into the wild from which we came and can feel the terrible grief that she herself carries.
Unending, as all grief is. As all relationships are.
But who also feel something more from our wise, wise, deep lover.
That grief too has its place.
That feeling the loss of life, aching over it, is, truly, a triumph for life.
Grief cannot – stubbornly will not – overcome death, but it vanquishes life’s true enemy.
This is the gift we can eventually bring back from our time in the underworld, clutched tight against those from whose realm we return.
The gift of the tingling intensity of full life – the simple joys of a path untainted by despair, corruption or surrender. The exquisite tastes of food, the truth and beauty ringing in the music and, for me, always the dancing; my wild, beloved dancing. The aliveness that grief works to return us to – in its agonising, unhurried way – in the aftermath of beloved death.
And, possibly, the gift for which environmentalism hungers.
So often, when I hear the learnéd speak of environmental collapse, ongoing or long done, all I can hear is their pain – sometimes articulated, often not – lurking among the figures and statistics. Unresolved..
I hear a zombie speaking.
It is no great wonder that when a man seeks a podium to speak of his pain, the audience is limited.
Most flinch before this uninvited onslaught, are put out, offended, impinged upon.
Yet we can – I can – learn to speak from the place beyond agony.
The place that faces down death, even the death of birth, and finds life beyond that. In this world.
In that place I find the other voices, the non-human and the no longer human. The others who share in the life of this planet, and those who no longer do.
All speak in this place.
And those dread, tender voices speak of death. Shatter undeath. Bring life.
There is a time for everything – a time for grieving, a time for reflection, a time for action, a time for silence. I feel that the time for storytelling, and for sitting comfortably, is drawing to a close.
On Dark Optimism I sometimes speak of the paths I am choosing to walk, and if they seem a little inadequate in the face of the big bad, well it is because they are. But they bring me life – true life – and a little voice whispers to me that that is enough. That that is everything.
I know that voice, and I love her.