At times like this, hope can feel almost disrespectful, a denial of the severity of what we are facing. The Polar Pioneer, a gargantuan drilling rig that looks as if it dropped from outer space, is traveling north by barge to Alaska, undeterred by colorful, intrepid kayaktivists led by indigenous people in traditional canoes. Royal Dutch Shell, a corporation with a dismal safety record, plans to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, described as the world’s last pristine sea and home to polar bears, whales, walruses, and a host of other creatures. A few days ago, in Charleston, South Carolina, a white supremacist sat with a Bible study group in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for an hour before opening fire on the group, murdering nine people, including the pastor, and forever changing the lives of the three survivors, the families of the slain, the whole community. He came, he said, to shoot black people and start a race war.
And yet, as I listened to the voices of the families of those who died addressing the accused murderer in a court hearing, I heard moving words of forgiveness, of refusal to hate. I read that Emanuel AME Church has withstood racist violence for almost 200 years. I stood with hundreds of people cheering the canoeists and kayaktivists from the shore as they surrounded the giant rig. Five “Raging Grannies,” the eldest 92 years old, chained rocking chairs together to block work to repair the Polar Pioneer and were later arrested at Seattle’s Terminal 5. Hope begins to return amidst sorrow and grief. If the people of Emanual AME Church, the indigenous peoples of the land, the grandmothers can survive extreme, sustained violence and continue their lives and work, how can I, with all the privilege I have, give up?
My dreams also give me hope. The day after I watched the canoes and kayaks confronting the Polar Pioneer, I had this dream:
“I come across a large, mortally wounded owl on the sidewalk. At first I think it’s dead, then it moves slightly. On its lower abdomen, in a vertical line, I see three tiny, fluffy baby owls. I look for the phone number to call animal rescue. The big owl is beyond hope, but I want to save the babies.”
We can’t bring back species that have become extinct – the Eastern puma, the western black rhino, the Pinta Island tortoise, to name a few recent losses. We can’t bring back to life the murdered church members, the many other African-Americans killed by white supremacists, or the indigenous people who died of war, disease, starvation, and heartbreak. We can grieve and honor their passing. We can acknowledge and work to correct the injustices and imbalances that caused their deaths. And we can nurture and protect what is now coming into life, what is being born into our world.