I have heard lots of comments in the last few days about how soft we all are as we try to get through these days without power brought on by the October snowstorm. “Good thing we didn’t live back before electricity,” some wit guffaws. “We’d all a’ died!”
Okay, enough. No, we wouldn’t have. We aren’t soft. We have new habits and new technology and we are reliant on them. So what? Go back to the good old days when men were men and women cooked and sewed, and take away their candles and see how they would have done.
Those of a more serious turn of mind do worry about what we are becoming; they just say it academically. And part of their concern is how our new habits aren’t only alienating us from nature—and each other, for that matter—but are environmentally destructive. With this I agree. As we have improved our lot, we have let our responsibility to nature take a back seat.
We humans are resilient and creative; look at what we have accomplished. I’m not talking about the gurus who developed computers and the Internet, but us, those of us who suffer without our computers and phones and iPods. We have learned how to use technology; some have mastered it. We haven’t just flown to Paris, we’ve been to the moon. We are amazing, and though it’s tough to live without our “stuff,” we manage. Sure, I’d be better off right now with one of those huge walk-in fireplaces, but I can still take a hot bath (thank you gas water heater).
We aren’t less because we are lost without our technology. Those who lived by candlelight probably couldn’t imagine life before fire, but those who lived before fire figured it out. We all make the best lives we can out of what is here now. The fact that I can’t figure out what to do with myself when I have no TV or radio, no light by which to read, no computer to research recipes or song lyrics, and no heat to warm my house doesn’t mean I couldn’t have managed it back in the day when that’s how it was. We organize our lives according to the times and the habits of our society.
What we have lost from yesteryear is appreciation for our environment. Somehow we’ve bought into the idea that our intelligence and opposable thumbs make us more important rather than more capable, and that’s the part that worries me. We confuse the idea of caring for the earth and its creatures with the idea that they are here only for our use. Just as we don’t own our children, but are charged with their upbringing, we don’t own the soil and the wildlife and the water and the air. We are borrowing them for the time we’re here, and we have to give them back.
When I was in college at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Va., which was fairly recently, what with my being a late-bloomer, one of my assignments was to attend a church service or a religious meeting of some kind, and report about any conversation that was held regarding the environment. As Thomas Road Baptist Church is a mere hop, skip and jump from R-MWC, I decided to go see what Jerry Falwell might have to say on the topic. What he said was something like this: “We’re paving everything with grass on it,” he bellowed. I’m not kidding—he bellowed. Well, in his defense, it is a huge church. He wanted to make a bigger parking lot.
It was the only environmental statement made during the service, though he later told his audience that, “The earth is not our home. We are pilgrims passing through.” That point was made to wake up anyone who thought it mattered what was done to the earth. He reportedly believed that only people mattered and we had no responsibility for the environment, and I heard nothing that disproves that report.
I hear the same attitude all the time; and I see it when it’s left unsaid in the gas-guzzling cars, the increase in impervious coverage surrounding big stores, the subsidies given to huge agricultural businesses that are crowding out the family farms, and our personal habits. This isn’t about tree-huggers, though I don’t know why hugging trees is a problem. This is about our beautiful world. If you want something to stay nice, you take care of it. You wouldn’t ravage your house. Let’s not ravage the earth.
That’s something about which people used to be a little more careful back in the days before technology, the days when men were men. And before that were the days when American Indians, to whom some incorrectly referred as savages, apologized to the buffalo for taking its life and gave gratitude to the deer who provided them with food. What we have lost in our technological empire is a relationship with nature as experienced when people were closer to the earth, and cared for it as a resource and a living thing. So though we are capable, and we wouldn’t expire if we lived then, we don’t have the same strength of spirit and that makes us a little less.