Updated: May 20
Tanya Webster, DLFE, reflects on the call for environmental justice work. Earth Day, April 2021.
The outside has always called to me. My childhood memories are full of nature; smelling warm grass and summer rain, harvesting buttercups and alpine strawberries for our playhouse, and waking early most days in the summertime just to listen to the many songbirds chirping through my open window. My playhouse itself was created from the living web; a long living room within a huge hedge of forsythia that ran behind the houses on my street. In the late spring, entering was a riotous celebration of spring, surrounded by a sea of yellow blossoms.
Humans are necessarily enveloped in the web of life. It is impossible to step outside of it, our bodies depending on oxygen, water, food webs and sunlight. But for most of us today, here in Northern California and elsewhere, our natural world often seems at arm’s length. Buried below appointments and work deadlines, our deep connection to Earth becomes a background rhythm or perhaps something to wrap into our Spiritual Practice. At the same time, our very real fear of climate chaos peeks out like a boggart from behind the global supply chains, cultural norms, and conveniences easing our busy lives.
The overwhelm is real. It feels almost impossible that anything we do can make a significant difference. I try to not be wasteful, to support my local community, and to turn off the lights when I leave a room. I know I benefit from privilege, compared to the majority of the world’s population, when it comes to resource accessibility and some insulation from devastating climate chaos events. But it is hard to stay in the ring. The sheer size of the system and issue is boggling to my small human brain, and my stomach knots when I wonder about my children’s children’s world. I feel deep heartache between my shoulder blades when I think about losing songbirds, Pacific tree frogs, clean water or breathable air.
It numbs me and while I deeply, deeply care, I feel caught in tharn, like a rabbit in headlights, unable to do more. I tell myself to just put my head down, join together with others who care, and keep going. It’s hard, but I am buoyed by a story told by Wangari Maathai, the Nobel laureate and environmental and gender rights activist from Kenya:
“We are constantly being bombarded by problems that we face and sometimes we can get completely overwhelmed. The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire. All the animals in the forest come out and they are transfixed as they watch the forest burning and they feel very overwhelmed, very powerless, except this little hummingbird. It says, ‘I’m going to do something about the fire!’ So it flies to the nearest stream and takes a drop of water. It puts it on the fire, and goes up and down, up and down, up and down, as fast as it can.
In the meantime all the other animals, much bigger animals like the elephant with a big trunk that could bring much more water, they are standing there helpless. And they are saying to the hummingbird, ‘What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’
But as they continue to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time and it tells them, ‘I am doing the best I can.’
And that to me is what all of us should do. We should always feel like a hummingbird. I may feel insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching as the planet goes down the drain. I will be a hummingbird, I will do the best I can.”
And so, let us be hummingbirds, and keep open our hearts and minds so that we might carry our loads of water. When you care, you keep at it. Take a deep breath, like taking a deep breath into the wind. Pushing through, and filled with action. Step into it. The other choice is unbearable. Per Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, the UUA president; Now is not the time for a timid faith.
Let love and commitment guide your way and form your rallying cry. What do you love and don’t want to lose to Climate Chaos? For what are you willing to show up, to protect, to defend? We all have something we love and can’t bear to lose to Climate Chaos.
Now every day is Climate Action day; Earth Day is no longer one day a year to celebrate recycling. For me, Earth Day is about action, but more about renewing our deep connection and love for the Earth. Release our Earth Prayers to the winds on the ribbons. Pray for the development of sustainability that can mend our beautiful planet. Feel gratitude today. Teach those around you to feel that love. It’s about our connection to each other and what we hold dear, and our interdependent web. Renew yourself today, so that you may re-commit to action tomorrow and every day after. Don’t freeze and don’t give up. Imagine and build a healthier world we need.