Reflections in May – 2019

Carol A. Hand

Greeting the chilly May morning
noticing that dandelions have yet to open
to reveal golden blooms to greet the day
while the sparking dew-covered grass
reflects the weak light of a cloudy grey sky

*

A prophetic song is playing in my thoughts

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”

*

*
Reading the mainstream news confirms Cohen’s message
“There is a crack, a crack in everything”
yet all I have to offer are imperfect ramblings
Perhaps that’s enough to let some light get in?

*

Lake Superior – May 2019

***

The research my students read this past semester continues to haunt me. They explored how unequal access to potable water disproportionately affects the health of groups that have been relegated to marginalized socio-economic status and forced to relocate to the least desirable lands. Most people believe that “developed” countries are not affected by the scarcity of safe water to drink. Some of the students this past semester were shocked when they discovered otherwise.

One student shared a quote from a study she reviewed, “… the value of water is [only] truly appreciated when one becomes thirsty” (Noga & Wolbring, 2013, p. 1872). I am reminded of the courage and commitment of the Standing Rock Water Protectors and the violent resistance they had to endure because too many people take clean water for granted until it’s too late.

Another student reviewed a study about a community in Texas that was profoundly affected by a disaster. Although the study took place almost a decade after the residents learned that their water had been contaminated with benzene, the community remained shattered as a result of a “technological disaster” caused by a nearby oil refinery owned by the Exxon Corporation (Couch & Mercuri, 2007, p. 118).

Although community members noticed problems with the smell, taste, and color of their water when they first moved into the newly developed subdivision in the 1980s, they were assured by the local municipal utility district that the water was safe. The district staff undoubtedly believed that to be true. Public water suppliers were not required to test for benzene, “a known human carcinogen,” until 1990 (Couch & Mercuri, 2007, p. 120). After benzene was included among the chemical contaminants public water suppliers had to measure, the test results for the community’s water supply were alarming – the amount of benzene was eleven times greater than what was deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Without informing residents, the district switched the community to a “safe” alternate water source after additional tests showed the same results for benzene. Community residents were not informed about the contamination or the switch until rumors and a local investigative reporter forced the issue. Residents were finally notified five months after the discovery and shift to a new water source. Couch and Mercury (2007, p. 117) describe the response. “In the words of one resident, the community reacted ‘like someone stepping on an anthill – everyone running in different directions.’”
Imagine what that does to the sense of trust community members have in their public service providers and government officials. It’s something residents in Love Canal, NY and Flint, MI experienced.

Residents in each of the communities affected by “technological disasters” had to undertake their own advocacy and identify researchers and lawyers who could help them prove their case. But ending at least part of the most obvious and egregious environmental injustices and winning court cases can’t heal the ongoing health damages, psychological trauma, or splintered community relationships that result.

This brief overview does not do justice to an important research study that details the complex intricacies of the multidimensional harm suffered by residents of this particular Texas community. Hopefully, though, it highlights a simple, compelling point. Vulnerability to the most destructive consequences of both technological and natural disasters is far greater for groups that have already been subjected to centuries of ongoing systematic and structural discrimination because of socio-economic status and ancestry. It is not something governments alone can address even if they are willing to do so. The causes are deeper and more complex.

There is a pattern we see repeating for each community that goes through the increasingly common natural and technological disasters. Community leaders declare their intention to rebuild and recover what was lost. Based on the experiences of communities that have survived repeated natural disasters, recovery has sometimes been possible. Couch and Mercuri (2007, p. 131) point out “that in areas prone to certain types of natural disasters, a disaster subculture develops which helps residents prepare for and respond to disasters. For example, in natural disasters, a therapeutic community often forms by which neighbor helps neighbor to respond to the catastrophe” (emphasis mine).

What Couch and Mecuri (2007, p. 131) witnessed in the community they studied, however, “was just the opposite, with everybody looking out only for themselves. Instead of the community being solidified, it was ‘like someone stepping on an anthill.’” They argue that what developed was a subculture of distress among residents that reinforced “uncertainty, distrust, alienation, and conflicting individualized responses to the problems” (Couch & Mercuri, 2007, p. 132, emphasis mine).

Couch and Mercuri (2007, p. 134) argue that “With chronic technological disasters, recovery/transformation must often take place in the midst of ongoing danger, or at the very least, amidst the perception of it.” The trauma created by benzene contamination didn’t end when the problem was addressed by the municipal utility district. Residents had already ingested contaminated water and had been deceived by people and officials whom they had trusted.

They had to live with the fact that they were already ill or with constant fear that they might become seriously ill at some point in the future. They also learned that they couldn’t depend on government officials for help. They couldn’t recover the illusion that personal health and safety were guaranteed. The only option available to them was to transform themselves and their lives in response to changing circumstances.

*

Lake Superior – May 2019

*

As I thought about the difference between recovery and transformation for communities affected by disasters, I was reminded of the times we are all living in now. With each passing day, those in power around the world are creating ever more destruction and instability. Even if the destruction ends today, we will still need to contend with the destabilizing consequences for generations yet to come. The message I take away from this article is the need to learn how to create an adaptive community where people can learn how to work together rather than only look out for their own self interests.

Overcoming the programming that has affected too many of us in the world to hunger and thirst for things that destroy rather than sustain life is not an easy task. Perhaps as Cohen suggests, things need to break first so the light can get in. Perhaps the most that those who see the dangers ahead can accomplish is to transform themselves and what they think and say and do.

Works Cited:

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem” from the 1992 album The Future.

Stephen R. Couch & Anne E. Mercuri (2007). Toxic water and the anthill effect: The development of a subculture of distress in a once contaminated community. Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, 14, 117-137.

Jacqueline Noga & Gregor Wolbring (2013). Perceptions of water ownership, water management, and the responsibility of providing clean water. Water, 5(4), 1865-1889.

NOVA/PBS – “Poisoned Water” video about the Flint, Michigan disaster available at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/poisoned-water/

The New York Times – “The Love Canal Disaster: Toxic Waste in the Neighborhood (Retro Report)” video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kjobz14i8kM

Afterword:

Anthem, by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent:
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
A thundercloud
And they’re going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

*

46 thoughts on “Reflections in May – 2019”

  1. Carol, you wrote:

    “The message I take away from this article is the need to learn how to create an adaptive community where people can learn how to work together rather than only look out for their own self interests.”

    As long as we exist under massive government/economic-systems (STATISM), here and around the rest of the planet, there will be no community period.

    Community does not exist in this hell on earth. As you know, there were once small self-governing/sustaining communities here and in Western Europe, and they worked for the unique individuals involved and for the community itself, as a whole.

    This of course, is a pipe-dream of mine. But humanity has been divided against itself in so many ways, that unity, and the power to the people it brings, will never be possible again, not as everything stands now.

    Perhaps everything does need to be cracked, or even totally destroyed, so humanity can then begin anew, and hopefully without making the same disastrous mistakes as before?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. There is an imperative need to address the deadly problem of “predatory capitalism.” That is the force that rules the entire planet now, and its modus operandi is divide and conquer and it does it impeccably and exponentially. The main reason it is so successful that it is destroying a world is that it bases its “legitimacy” upon the standard selfishness of the average Earthian. If a community is made up of essentially selfish, self-seeking individuals, that community will raise up leaders of a similar vein. It will become an insular,competitive community and will not reach out either to offer help or to seek help. The only solution to this problem I know of is for individuals to choose to become compassionate beings, that being the only known force that can defeat the narcissism of capitalism. We’ve done all the other ‘stuff’ and now we have nothing else left to try but the one option that should have been our own modus operandi since our beginnings as gregarious communities. The gods offered us many gifts taken from Pandora’s box and they were all false because it was selfishness that had birthed them. Compassion wasn’t in that box because everyone of ‘us’ already had it within ourselves but in the deluge of exciting new ‘gifts’ it got buried and even the Buddha could not make it resurface except as, at best, a mantra and another pointless religion.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Sadly, Sha’Tara, those who choose compassion over competition have always been at a distinct disadvantage in past and present times. The challenge is to figure out how to change that person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood, etc., while still addressing the larger threats that affect us all.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes but no one and nothing can stop an individual from choosing to express her/his life compassionately. I have no power to address the larger threats affecting the world except by consuming less and boycotting the “really bad guys” of the corporate world but I can change ‘me’. I can be an example of what is possible as an individual. All of my adult life I have challenged people seeking change with: don’t tell me, show me. Now, it’s up to me to do the ‘showing’ and the ‘showing up.’

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Carol, thank you for sharing your reflections during yet another month of bombardment that threatens to consume the little that’s left of our democracy. I’m having difficulty in staying focused on what truly matters. Cohen’s lyrics are powerful and hopeful. The supporting video causes my soul to soar with the birds.

    I agree when you say, “Perhaps as Cohen suggests, things need to break first so the light can get in.” Since Cohen wrote that song, the cracks have become larger and more numerous. Millions more in the USA and worldwide are seeing the light and are “ring[ing] the bells that still can ring.” But “that lawless crowd [and] killers in high places” are digging in for a long fight. As your brief overview of the threats to our potable water supplies reveals, they continue to poison our life-giving water (as well as the air we breathe) with their toxic waste.

    Blessings, sister ❤

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thank you so much for your always thoughtful comments, dear Rosaliene. I share your struggle. It is hard to figure out where to focus when so much is being destroyed. Still, I grade papers and tend gardens and hope that it matters.

      I am so grateful to hear that you see reasons to hope. It helps to know that, dear friend. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What a disaster & shame,dear Carol! I believe that more people all over the world should learn what’s going on in the USA to ponder before it’s too late indeed. Ecology is become the essential if we want the future. I’m going to deal with trees, planting trees & garbage. The planet must be cleaned as soon as its possible.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments, Trace, and for sharing the link to more information about water. I look forward to reviewing the information on the site. Hopefully, I will find things I can incorporate into my class for next semester.

      Sending my best wishes. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The world is mostly water, we are mostly water, but access to good water is denied to people all over the world and water in all its forms is the most important issue. Your river can be dammed by someone upstream, Or you land flooded because up in the hills they have chopped down the trees that absorbed water.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I do not personally ascribe to the theory of ‘evolution’ but even if it were true, if one were to rely on that it’s too slow a process to deal with what we are faced with. I prefer the concept of adaptation, for that is not limited by “geological” time! We can adapt within a lifetime (immigrants and refugees do it all the time) and we could if we so desired. It comes down, not to fate or the slow grind of natural change, but to desire. When people choose themselves as arbiters of what is right and good rather than trusting the movement to psychopaths and corrupt greedy fools then adaptation can happen and change will swiftly follow. For the time being people are still mesmerized by their powerful types, their rich and famous and their parasitical royalties. They are therefore slaves to accepting violent competition, war and genocide for “living” space and ‘proof’ of exceptionalism. They are therefore forced to believe that they need to “consume” their world, their poor and their defenseless – that wonderful legacy of European imperialism, capitalism and religious supremacy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is definitely a group I am working with that is spiritually evolving very fast, and it feels very powerful within! I think many of us are ready and open to approach life in a very different way and this gives me great hope for change universally 💚💕

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thought provoking, resonant. I, too, am grateful for the water protectors who endured so much violence while standing up for their land and clean water. These are extraordinary times we are living in. May we find a peaceful way forward which honors all…ALL humans, ALL non-humans, and all the natural resources that are essential for sustaining life. 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So many powerful moments in this post Carol. Reminds me of the yearning of Robin Wall –
    Kimmerer (who you alerted me to – “Braiding Sweetgrass”) – I think it is true to say that the research you are citing is not in isolation, but is duplicated everywhere, I can identify it here, and the deterioration of community as a way of being.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bruce, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. The tragedy of Grassy Narrows is a powerful example of the importance of water for community health and the ways in which human decisions cause great inter-generational suffering and environmental destruction. I remember Anastasia Shkilnyk’s book about Grassy Narrows – “A poison stronger than love: The destruction of an Ojibwa community.” The message has continued to haunt me and informs the focus of what I try to convey to students.

      Like

  8. Very informative post. We have taken so much and wasted so many resources from Earth, we may be entering a time when it starts to take back. Still I think common good will prevail, it must. Our greatest trait as humans is in our acts of kindness. There are more simple acts of decency between everyday people (including the forum you provide here), than the sum of darkness that seems to prevail from our recent political mess (I am talking Canada as well, that includes a leader who has proven himself even more narcissistic, lawbreaking, misogynistic and out of touch as yours). Sure these (leaders?) hold power but there is more of us than them, regardless of political leanings or race, we want the same things; a healthy environment, hope for our children and grandchildren, to be happy and live in peace. To pollute our water is to give in to darkness while we look to the ‘crack’ where the light gets in. We have to bust that crack open so thee light flows throughout the land and over the should tied there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bob, thank you so much for sharing such important observations and insights, and for the song that brought tears to my eyes. Of course, I had to look up the meaning of “hineni” – “I am here.” The meaning is deeper, though, and so appropriate.

      “More than a simple indication of being physically present in a location, the word “Hineni” is more of an existential expression. I’m not only here, but I’m here. Spiritually, I’m all in. I’m prepared to reflect on who I am, what’s important to me, and how I can effect change for others” (Source: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hineni-a-prayer-for-the-ability-to-pray/).

      I agree that we need to act wisely, compassionately, and constructively. The challenge is to figure out how to do that when surrounded by people who don’t see the need to care about others or the earth.

      Like

  9. Carol, I’m deeply moved by this, unknown to me, Cohen song – wow! It pierces the heart – wonderful. A perfect centre piece for your post. Nowadays there are plenty of cracks in the world so time for the light to shine through … and I see its force at times which is uplifting and inspiring. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I don’t really have anything to add, it all seems to have been said in the essay and comments. But I’ll try anyway. 😎

    We obviously have compassionate, perceptive people around. The problem is that our edifice of sickness and destruction is showing many cracks, some are even large, but the indoctrination coupled with the resulting fear, apathy and complacency is preventing a majority of people from seeing them. And all forms of life will suffer because of it. I don’t know if we can do more than humbly help the walking dead learn the error of their ignorant, suicidal ways. We need a tide of enlightened teaching to come crashing down before we drown in our own greed and selfishness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That tide of enlightened teaching I believe is called climate change. Of course whether it’s an individual or a planet who plays prophet the Earthian creature within its collectives is unable to tune in to the message.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.