by Laurie Lane-Zucker
Several months ago, on an exquisite early autumn morning, I dropped my children at the school bus before beginning my first commute to the Seven Pillars House of Wisdom’s office in New Lebanon, NY, where I had recently accepted a staff position. The household activity that morning had been unremarkable. A sudden cry of realization about a piece of forgotten homework. General dissatisfaction over the “boooooorrring!” lunch I had packed. An argument over who had called “shotgun” first, and whether that person had actually been outside the front door when it was called (a strict rule of the game), that continued unabated between the front and back seats until we were parked at the post office awaiting the bus.
The argument came to an abrupt end when the bus approached, parked, and the kids opened their doors to leave. As they crossed the parking lot, I watched closely to make sure they were being wary of the other cars, and that those drivers were wary of them. Trailing his twin siblings, my youngest turned back, waved and smiled before he disappeared up the bus’s first step. I stretched for a parting glimpse of my twins but the bus’s windows were too darkly tinted.
The half hour drive to the office that day, up Route 22, which runs along the New York-Massachusetts border, reminded me of why I had moved to the Berkshires from New York City sixteen years ago. Shards of filtered daylight transfiguring mist-shrouded ponds. Fox, deer, and wild turkey flitting and disappearing into second and third growth woods studded with white pine, hemlock, and various hardwoods that were beginning to blush with late September color. A hint of frost.
Route 22, which runs from New York City all the way to the Canadian border, was originally an old Indian path, used by the St. Francis Indians of Canada to escape the winter chill and find better seasonal fishing. During colonial times, Route 22 was called “the road from Bedford to Vermont,” and was used to transport iron south from mines in the Adirondacks. I started driving the road regularly when I was in my late teens, a preferred route between my childhood home in a small town in southwestern Connecticut and the place of my undergraduate studies, Middlebury College in central Vermont.
The route is idyllic in an authentic Berkshires sense. Small dairy farms and farm stands, family-owned antique stores, diners, and gas stations. Quiet villages. Rolling hillsides. All tolled, they give the impression that change comes slowly here—that the sharper edges of human culture, with its road rage and its mall shootings, its seven-hour voting lines and 100-year droughts, its shantytowns, its human and wildlife trafficking, are, if not unreal, then at least a safe distance away.
But look closer and you will see signs that this region, like every other region on Earth, is undergoing startling 21st Century change. This change is not limited to the growing divide between haves and have-nots that is in stark evidence as your roll through affluent communities of weekend estates followed a few miles on by depressed villages of homes with peeling paint and caving porches. On these rural byways, shiny Mercedes SUVs vie with rusted pickups sporting confederate flags on the bumper and hunting rifles gracing the rear window.
Not far afield, evidence of the fast-emerging Fracking Economy comes into view, as the entire West-of-Hudson watershed sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a large gas and oil deposit, now extractable by hydraulic fracturing, and beckoning to profiteers and vote-hungry politicians alike.
While the attraction of so-called “energy independence” (it is estimated that fracking can make the United States a net energy exporter within a decade), extraction-related jobs and new revenue is superficially appealing, the same short-term, diseased thinking that characterizes most contemporary economic and political policy debate is apparent in this rabid rush toward fracking Nirvana. While global warming-fueled Hurricane Sandy did most of its $60+ billion in damage just south of our area, we see increasing signs that we are well on our way to the predicted climate of Atlanta, Georgia. Or worse. At some point, and recent evidence points to sooner rather than later, there will be no skiing or maple sugaring industries left in the region and an even greater number of invasive plants and disease-carrying insects will have settled in for the long haul. The blushing reds of autumn that annually draw throngs of pilgrimaging tourists so important for the local economy will disappear as the maple trees retreat north across the border.
One day we will turn around and find that the last innocence of this place is lost to us forever.
It is a common practice to blame politicians and media on the right, or powerful and corrupt industrial interests, or multinational banks, for pushing us ever closer to the brink. And, most certainly, they deserve to be called out for their ignorance, nearsightedness and greed. But what few people choose to recognize is that social and ecological impoverishment is a systemic problem and that system change requires much more than voting a controlling party out of Congress, or tightening regulations on the trading of derivatives, or clarifying the meaning and classification of “Organic.”
System change requires, first of all, seeing the state of the whole system. To that end, here are three facts:
• Carbon levels in the atmosphere increased in the past year to 394 parts per million (ppm). 44ppm beyond what many climate experts believe is necessary to maintain equilibrium.
• It is estimated that there will be 9-10.5 billion people on the Earth by century’s end.
• We live in one finite planetary ecosystem.
What do these few facts mean for the average, middle-class American, or for that matter the average, middle-class anyone? It means that much of what one takes for granted in the world is no longer viable and sustainable. The status quo is no longer safe, like a ground floor Hoboken apartment, or an Atlantic City seaside condo.
The business of reshaping human culture along sustainable and just lines requires a serious evolutionary leap—a transformation of the heart and mind so profound that what one values, desires, and derives pleasure from is different from before. Materialistic worldviews—including nearly all dominant economic philosophies—are unable to affect this kind of deep seated-change of consciousness, in large measure because materialism denies the essential substance necessary for true transformation—the sacred.
I am not speaking of religion here. I am speaking of immanence. Oneness. Magic. I am speaking of what Leonard Cohen calls the “crack in everything” that lets the light shine through. That streak of brown fur darting out of sight as you cross the crest of a hill and ease your foot off the accelerator. Your child’s smile as he says goodbye and steps onto the school bus.
A person who becomes able to peer through the cracks, to hold dialogue with the light, to see, to know—this is someone who will no longer be the person they were. They will have different concerns and different needs. When the world becomes sacred, when one becomes wise, one’s priorities change. “Love” becomes more than a feeling, it becomes a way of living. “Integrity” takes on greater coherence—outer and inner worlds joining in a mystical dance. “Beauty” assumes a richer, shimmering, many-hued countenance. There is enchantment in everyday things. You need fewer possessions and the things you need must have authentic stories attached to them. You can pick these things out of a crowded marketplace easily when you are attuned to the sacred—it is almost like they have a halo around them. You treat your family differently, and your neighbors. Your community becomes an extension of your body. Others’ children become your children.
You start to understand the mystery of your soul. To speak the language of your heart’s many layers. Until then, one is simply barking questions and opinions in the dark, transfixed by flickering shadows on a cave wall.
One week ago, as I was sitting down to write this meditation, a young man walked into an elementary school about an hour south of my house and close to my childhood home, a school that sits not far from the old Indian path I now drive nearly every day, the road between Bedford and Vermont. He brutally shot dozens of people, most of them young children between the ages of six and seven, before taking his own life.
Sandy Hook Elementary. Hurricane Sandy. There is a horrible repetition in these shocks to our “system.” An incessant drumbeat of madness and suffering.
What is the world coming to, we ask. Well, in our heart of hearts we know what the world is coming to. It may be nearly midnight but we can sense it coming as clearly as a freight train at sixty-five miles per hour. We see its headlight. We hear the ferocious rumbling and gnashing of steel wheels on steel tracks.
Sandy. Sandy Hook. Sandy. Sandy. Sandy Hook. Sandy. Sandy. Sandy Hook. Sandy. Sandy.
It’s time to step out of the way and make tracks in another direction.
It’s time to follow an old Indian path, and begin a new journey that ends with a pledge.
A pledge to bring light out of the darkness.
A solstice pledge.
And start your journey soon enough so that your children will still be able to join you for the ride.
— 21 December 2012
Laurie Lane-Zucker, an impact entrepreneur, lives in Sheffield, Massachusetts and is Executive Director of the Seven Pillars House of Wisdom in New Lebanon, New York and former founder/ CEO of Hotfrog and a regular contributor to Good-b.