Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mea culpa

One single act, once single action
can cause ripples that are felt on the other side of the world.

Forest Whitaker


          Years ago when I was a classroom teacher I once found a small, white envelope in my mailbox.  Addressed to "Miss Ingersoll" in a preteen's handwriting, I assumed it was from one of my former first graders who wanted to keep in touch.  I was wrong.  It was an apology letter one of my colleagues had her son write to me and every other teacher who was affected by her absence the week before when she had to leave school early to pick him up at his junior high. 
          "Sam" had made a negative choice that landed him in the principal's office...the consequence of which was his early dismissal.  And the consequence of that meant that two other teachers and I were going to have to cover the hour when our students were to be in my colleague's special class.  Of course, this meant that I lost my highly coveted Friday afternoon planning period and had to think quickly on my feet to keep my kids busy with a project or two until it was time to go home.  At the time it was no big deal.  But I had to stay late that night and take work home over the weekend to compensate for my lost time. 
          Kudos to my colleague for explaining to her son that his actions had a ripple effect...and involved circumstances he couldn't have begun to imagine.  In having him write very sincere apology letters to the teachers who were directly affected gave him the opportunity to not only be accountable for his own behavior, but also to acknowledge that his choice resulted in an outcome that impacted more than fifty people.

          As you all know by now, last weekend Toledo had a very serious water crisis.  I woke on Saturday morning to phone messages telling me, "Don't drink the water."  "Don't boil it!"  "Don't give it to your pets."  "Don't even TOUCH it!"  My friends know I don't watch TV and wanted to make sure I was informed ASAP. 
          Too bad that by the time I turned on my phone I had already brushed my teeth and fed the cats their breakfast.  AND the night before (when the toxins were just as high), I had cleaned out my Brita pitcher and installed a brand new filter.  After dumping it (and a huge container of lavender lemonade I had also made with boiling water) I went out in search of enough bottles of water to keep me afloat for a few days.
          By that time every place had sold out and I headed home only to remember my neighbor was out of town and left a mini fridge full of bottled water.  I called to ask if I could borrow a few and Rick laughed, "I just emailed you and said go get some!"  Moments later a yoga student showed up with over six gallons from her home in Oregon, Ohio where the water was safe to drink.  A neighbor I didn't recognize stopped me on the sidewalk to ask if I had enough water...that she was going out to get some.  I was surrounded by the kindness of others...and in turn got in touch with people who might need water to tide them over.  No one panicked...at least not where I live...and we all survived the weekend with more awareness and appreciation for the stuff that we often take for granted.

          As a gardener, I'm also an avid environmentalist.  Every year I make one simple change that I aim to maintain throughout the entire season.  A few years ago I started planting much of my annuals from seed.  The next year I expanded my herb garden.  Then I cut back on watering the lawn during a particularly hot and dry summer.  This year I decided to mulch the grass instead of bagging it.  I'm hoping that this time next year I'll have a compost bin behind the garage and a few raised beds filled to the brim with kale, lettuce, and the like.
          While I'm all about loving and respecting planet earth, solving the issues our city is facing goes beyond tree hugging.  Mother Nature is talking back and she's not a happy camper.  The water crisis was not an overnight event.  For more than a decade, runoff from farm fertilizers, sewage, and a host of other toxins has drifted into our water supply and stagnated there.  And during this sunny, dry month, the algae had a field day and wrecked havoc on our much-in-need-of improvement water treatment plant. 
          Politicians have voted down the necessary upgrades.  Citizens don't want their taxes raised to keep our little Frog Town (aptly named as Toledo was built on a swamp) high and dry and sustained with potable water.  And so here we stand...suffering the consequences of a host of choices that we've all made.  Big or small, each choice has the power to help solve the problem or be a part of its incessant intensification. 
          As for me, I'm careful with how I spend my grocery money.  I make choices to buy more locally (and organically, even if it costs a bit more).  I support local businesses as much as I can.  I ride my bike or walk to the library or to the park.  And I've been recycling for years.  Now, with the new awareness I've gained this week, I will no longer put any type of chemical fertilizer on my lawn.  If I have to pull out dandelions one by one, then so be it.  I won't contribute to the poisoning of our groundwater anymore.
         I once had an itchy conversation with a relative who used to recycle, but made the decision to stop because it was "too much trouble." 
          "Imagine if everyone said that," I replied.  "Do you know how much your small efforts make to help the environment?"
          She brushed me off.  "Oh, I don't believe in global warming...it's just a ploy to get us to worry about nothing."
          My eyebrow shot up.  "How can you say that after seeing all the scientific evidence?"
          She shrugged.  "Well, even if it is true, I'll be long gone by the time that happens."
          "So it's okay if your grandchildren and their children suffer because you couldn't be bothered to make small changes?"  Then I dug my heels in.  "You better hope that reincarnation isn't a reality, because...let me tell you...you'll be in for it."

          We all leave a legacy behind, whether we have children or not.  How we choose to live our lives leaves a footprint and a blueprint for who we were as individuals and who we were as part of the human condition.   My hometown's been in the news a lot this year...first because we had the worst winter in the USA and now because we're living through an experience that unites us in the most basic of ways.  It makes me wonder what our community's legacy will be as we move forward.
          As we are in life, we are everywhere.  During this past crisis, there are those who were doom and gloomers.  Those who responded with kindness.  Those who hoarded water.  Those who freely shared it.  Those who brushed it off and those who used the water crisis as an excuse to complain about politicians or the media. 
          But in the end, it's the choices we all make now that will create tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Isn't it time we all wake up and recognize the fact that the sum of our choices creates our reality?  So in the midst of my personal mea culpa, I invite you to gently ask yourself, "What small choice can I make to create positive change?"
          Just one choice honestly made and followed through with integrity can change the world, even if it's only your little corner of it. 
          The ripple effect will take care of the rest.