Cold Stone and Fierce Love
My heart is breaking. Every fibre of its delicate sentience is being violated by a reality as harsh as holocaust. Its soft tissues are torn to shreds. I can barely breathe though the pain of it.
Yesterday I attended Extinction Rebellion’s funeral march in honour of extinct and soon-to-be extinct species. It left me broken.
My heart, my fragile human heart, was not made to contain the grief of these times we are living in. It was not made to hold the extremes of death and rage that it is now living with, each day, each breath, each warm, tender pulse.
Participating in yesterday’s ceremony allowed the devastating reality of the global environmental situation to land in me in a way that it never has been able to before. Walking behind the mock coffin amidst the sombre group of a thousand mourners made the extinctions we were there to honour and those that we are threatened with—including that of our own species—shockingly palpable. The fine armour of denial habitually worn to shield my heart from the horrors we are living through fell away somewhere between Parliament Square and Buckingham Palace.
I’ve been trying to shed this armour all my adult life, loosening it and pulling it off piece by piece, only to feel it re-grow again when my attention turned elsewhere for a while. Yesterday a whole layer of the stuff tore off. Being part of the procession, surrounded by others who have shed or are in the process of shedding their denial, overwhelmed any unconscious attempt to turn away from the reality of our global crisis.
Raw, un-shielded, the enormity of the situation broke in on me, the cold facts printed on banners carried by the mourners pierced me like blades of ice.
“200 species lost each day due to human activities.” I find no way to rationalise this fact, nor to bury it. It screams from beneath the soil, eclipses both sun and moon.
Add up the figures:
200 species lost each day…
1,400 species lost each week…
6,000 species lost each month…
72,000 species lost each year…
720,000 species lost each decade…
…through the ravaging of nature by misguided human ingenuity and blind greed.
At the current rate of extinction we will have wiped out all 8.7 million species on the planet in a little over 100 years, and ourselves with them. And the rate of extinction is currently accelerating.
It is impossible to reconcile these numbers with what passes for everyday normality. Our civilisation is literally destroying life on this planet, in the pursuit of consumer paradise. I stagger in the face of the brutality, institutionalised ignorance and systemic denial that allows this to continue. My heart breaks anew with the acknowledgement of my own complicity, however slight compared to many.
Each single species is the labour of ages, an irreplaceable strand in the web of life, a precious jewel in the sparkling constellation of this miracle Earth. To fully feel the loss of one strand is horrible. To be implicated in the loss of 200 per day is devastating.
How to conceive of the conscience of those whose interests in short-term personal gain blind them entirely to the evil they perpetrate?
How to endure the cold faces of business-as-usual sleepwalkers, completely mindless of the damage their consumer lifestyles are causing, utterly careless of the irreparable destruction their everyday choices are supporting?
Their hard eyes seem made of virtual reality. Their greed is like titanium claws, or like chainsaws, ripping through living fibre. Their unconsciousness of the insidious evil our lives are embedded in is like fracking fluid flooding the chambers of the heart.
“60% of the Earth’s biodiversity destroyed in the last 50 years by human greed and ignorance,” read another banner. By next year that number will only have increased.
How can this be happening? How can it be that I’m only now fully waking up to this reality?
Tears pour down my cheeks from a pool of grief so vast it looks to me like the night sky, an enveloping darkness.
I thought I was getting used to all this. I thought I was finding an equanimity. After decades of environmental awareness and radical choices to limit my impact and re-connect with the living Earth, I thought that I was in touch with the situation. But yesterday’s funeral procession shattered that equanimity. Walking behind the coffin brought home to me the bitter reality of what is going down in a new and savage way. Today I am reeling with a fathomless grief and incandescent rage that is like an image from the book of revelations.
Extinction Rebellion is an apposite name for the movement rising up to fight against the continued and escalating devastation. The heart ignites in rebellion at the inhumanity of the mass extinction we are causing and which if allowed to continue will sweep us away too. The soul of the Earth which resides in all of us floods us with rebellion at what is clearly unconscionable conduct on the part of those who are overseeing the global destruction as well as those who are participating in it—either knowingly or in ignorance. And so we rise up, with fierce love in our breaking hearts, in the name of life, to rebel against extinction.
On the 31st October we roared our declaration of rebellion outside parliament. Last Saturday we took rebellion to London’s bridges and blocked them for a day. Earlier this week we took rebellion to the streets of London and disrupted some of the normality that is destroying our Earth. And yesterday we processed rebelliously from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace, stopping outside Downing Street on the way to let our tears fall on the road and our songs echo off the government buildings of Whitehall.
There was something deeply mythical about it. I felt a bit like I was in the Iliad: through the streets the procession moved, calling for climate justice in the name of life; our way was lined with police officers and surrounded by the cold stone monumental architecture of establishment power; one could almost sense the divine forces at play overhead which these two colliding factions were representing here on Earth! Although the police gave no obstruction and we left the monumental architecture behind at the entrance to Pall Mall, the invisible friction grew more intense the closer we got to Buckingham Palace.
There was a third element also, which it took me a while to notice but with which there was actually a more intense collision than the with other. This was the more insidious form of inertia represented by the onlookers who read the banners we carried and the pamphlets we distributed but remained unmoved. Some simply laughed and took photos, enjoying the spectacle of the procession before carrying on with their day; others grumpily pushed through the crowds, resenting the delay, intent on their own business. I felt that the disengaged eyes of these passers-by held more resistance in them than the establishment powers flanking the procession, and the invisible force they represented to be far older and deeper than any of the bright warring gods or even the Earth itself.
So many worlds, so many realities, conflicting and inexorable.
When we arrived at the fountain in front of the palace the air was almost crackling with the friction of subtle forces. It looked almost hopeless, our little bundle of rebellion, in the face of so much cold stone and inertia. But there was a power in it that was far greater than the sum of its parts: the power of life and love rising up to shake the foundations of a destructive and ailing system. However small our number, the grief and rage we expressed there before the seat of the nation’s sovereign power was great and marked a historic moment.
There before the palace gates we laid down the coffin. There before the empty windows of the palace we let more tears fall, welling up from our love of the Earth and despair at the failure of those who are titled our leaders to even acknowledge the emergency. There we called upon the Queen to act in response to the existential crisis we face as a nation and a commonwealth. And there we declared that her failure to do so renders the social contract null and void and our rebellion justified in law and conscience. I wonder if she heard us. I wonder if she cares.
I wonder too what powers are preventing her and her noble officers, the British aristocracy, from acting in accordance with the law of the land and the dictates of conscience to respond appropriately to the emergency we, as a nation, are in.
But I know this: whatever these powers are, wherever they operate from, however much destruction they succeed in wreaking upon the Earth or any other part of this sacred creation, their power will one day fail. For they are not love, and only love prevails.
I know this also: however much my heart breaks, however much grief pours through me in the face of what is being lost here every single day and what will continue to be lost in the days, weeks, months and years to come, love will remain, and that love will cause me to rebel against the criminally destructive status quo that is jeopardising our future and that of all beings on Earth.