A healthy Conservatism is committed to the past, the present, and the future. It keeps our present rooted in the love and wisdom of the ancestors, including honorably learning from their errors, failures and sacrifices. Likewise, a well-rooted, conscientious Conservatism approaches a brighter future through inculcating moral courage and critical thinking in younger generations. We who live in the present are always at the sacred crux of time, remembering the love of the ancestors while we have faith in the regenerative capabilities of generations of ancestors yet to come.
I used to think that I would be more viable and worthy as a person if I were a “Person of Color”. I used to believe the voices of angry people who projected their pain onto my skin. I used to believe I owed them something. I used to believe I was in some way fundamentally different from them, as if I were not as magical or worthy or wild as my fellow humans. I’ve decided to stop believing those voices, to exit the new cult of race-hatred that tells me I have “fragility” if I dissent. Now I know that Whiteness reflects light and color: some people get angry at that, aren’t comfortable with the mirror of my being, can’t handle how many different shades of paint are needed to paint the color of my impossible skin. The truth reflects their insecurities and false narratives back at them. The truth reflects your love and friendship and creaturely kinship as we co-create a future together. Your Browness is enough. My Whiteness is enough.
Though I have rightly been angry at hateful “Social Justice” extremism, I shall not hate its practitioners. I shall listen with patience and speak with wisdom and courage. I will call them my fellow people. Though I have been demonized for my white skin, I shall not treat my fellow humans of darker skin with contempt. I will delight in their beauty and mine. Though I have been labeled a “settler”, I belong here just like you. I believe in the goodness of indigenization. I believe in the dreams of our ancestors, yours and mine. I give up and I gain culture, you give up and you gain culture. Let us conserve what is beautiful, true and good. Let us liberate for the love of these. I will stand by both the unity of my species and the righteous laws of my country. I am human and animal, White and Indigenous, domestic and wild, Liberal and Conservative. I am American, I am a Westerner: past, present and future. I live.
Friends of Our Wilderness Awareness School Community,
I have been thinking deeply and with a heaviness about this for some time, and I want to welcome to conversation anyone who might be silent and feeling the same way, or is interested in strengthening cross-political friendships in this time of grief and disconnect.
As some of you may or may not know, I have come to hold some different views than many of the good people at Wilderness Awareness School. I am a Conservative.
I say this outright because it is precisely the fear of saying it which I must challenge. It is this fear of social marginalization which I carry within myself, but a roar I must run to. We are all humanely prone to move in our small bubbles, not realizing that there is more intellectual diversity among our people than we realize. We are not a truly diverse organization if we welcome diversity that is only skin-deep.
Over the past couple years I have persistently worried that I am not welcome as a Conservative (even a Centrist or a Classical Liberal who is grateful for our Western Civilization) to be open with you whom I have called by beloved community. I come from a very, very Liberal background, and was still largely identifying in this way while I was an Anake of 2012-13. But we question and we grow; we challenge the unchallenged perspectives we are brought up with.
While I still empathize with and support a number of traditionally Liberal views, I also hold Conservative, mainline-Republican views which I worry are becoming increasingly demonized among well-meaning people who also want to protect what is sacred to them. We’re all carrying these sacred things we burn to protect, and I fear this growing divide. How easily we go to war with each other, and we make our neighbor our enemy. I do not carry hatred within me. I carry human anger and grief, like you. I have engaged with Intersectional Social Justice and have come away with the conclusion that it is not healthy or humane. This is my perspective. It is not the only perspective. Other good people do not share my perspective, but neither will I accept being thought of as “hateful” or a “supremacist” for not agreeing with this ideology. Furthermore, I am concerned that this ideology attempts to gather all People of Color and all gender-nonconforming people into a small political box of a perennially suffering identity which silences their independent dissenting voices, too.
We need to not be seeing each other as our enemies. A deep connection with Nature should belong to everyone, not just those we are politically in agreement with, not just the anointed ones. Insofar as issue has been taken with traditionally mainline-conservative approaches to nature, this should mean that welcoming Conservatives is all the more of a pressing need: would they not greatly benefit from what WAS has to teach?
Speaking to this almost entirely left-leaning community, we need to listen to Conservatives among us, because that is a part of this amazingly complex, diverse reality which we as a community are missing. And for the sake of real and serious peace, Conservatives must know that they, too, can safely come to communities like WAS to learn and grow as people without being told that all their views are wrong or hateful. Let them be welcomed to meet others not like them, to find delight and friendship in ancestries and gender identities unknown to them. If you want people to listen, they have to know they will be listened to, also. Let despairing be dispelled.
One of the areas we must examine is how, as a mostly-White group of people, we are rightfully eager to be sensitive to and deeply respectful of the experiences of People of Color, but at the same time we painfully and increasingly hate ourselves with such self-abuse, because we think that “whiteness” itself is some sort of inborn social evil we must spiritually atone for. Believe me, my beef is not and has never been with People of Color: it is with other White People. This grieves me heavily, that such a time as this is upon us. While I do not assert that every person reading this thinks in such a way in their attempt to extend generosity and inclusion to minority ancestries, I do maintain that I have witnessed this self-abusing trend and I am calling it out as unhealthy and lacking kindness and respect towards ourselves. Are we so frightened of some largeness within us? We are unremarkable, just another group of human beings with our own culture and history, our own deep beauty and wretched problems, with all the good and the bad that comes with any human heritage.
There is much more I could say about this, but I will end this invitation here. I have had somewhat more brief and heated conversations with a few of you before, in moments when I was admittedly feeling less gracious and more upset. That is the product of grief, and I know I am not the only one here to have wrestled that demon. Every one of us will fail to live up to our better angels on this darkened path through the Unknown World. I am shaking as I write this, because it’s damn scary to speak up to you all about this, but it must be done. I have had good dreams. I am not masterfully practiced in every moral responsibility I know I carry as one who lives in this liminal space –not unlike other cultural liminal spaces– but which is nonetheless one unseen at Wilderness Awareness School currently. It is unseen among The Left, the ones who made me who I am. That is not an intentional maliciousness on the part of our communities, I hope, but it is a cultural shortcoming which countless communities in our civilization are now dangerously contending with. I can’t be there for all of them, but I can show up for the ones that have mattered to me. I will do my imperfect best to be a good human creature, and I welcome you in your imperfect best to join me and break open what scares us. Please, speak to me. I will speak in response. Let us listen to each other.
There’s too much silence when it comes to talk of mental health issues and kids. That is, too much silence for the right things, for the soul and the need for heart-comfort, while there is so much vocal fear of societal alienation. Total anonymity, as an attempt to protect the sufferer when they are minors, only isolates them more. By keeping news of mental suffering secret from the people who would really help them, the suffering young person does not find relief.
Obviously, there are the right and wrong people to tell, but the trustworthy pool of people for every young person needs to be widened. Once, I was at a staff meeting at the private elementary school I worked at. The topic of the meeting was student health protocols. We talked about asthma, Epi-pens, seizures, diabetes, concussions, broken arms. We named names in confidence and protection of this sensitive information, but discussed these cases openly as it related to our ability to help these kids. I asked if there are children with mental health diagnoses we should know about. I was met with a glare from my middle manager, a ring of silence.
“That kind of thing is usually only shared with the school counselor,” said the director.
“And only if the parent chooses to share it.”
So, a parent’s social fear increases a child’s social fear, and the terror of stigma is passed on from parent to child. And that kind of thing, with all the stigma already implied in the manager’s voice, persists.
This is all incredibly stupid and isolates people, making the condition itself even worse. People with diabetes or cancer don’t get the same treatment. Depression, anxiety, PTSD; all these thrive on silence, isolation and shame. At the very least, all the adult professionals responsible for a child’s wellbeing, including teachers and childcare workers, should be entrusted with this information and taught what to do with it, how to appropriately protect it, and how to understand and take care of the child who has it, no differently than a child with severe asthma or a broken bone. It helps enormously to know what a kid is going through: whether their inappropriate behavior is merely a cranky growth phase for a kid, or if there’s something more serious underneath, such as depression, trauma or the death of a loved one.
Some of the same stigma follows diseases such as AIDS. Treat all blood as if it’s contaminated, says the protocol. I worry that this is ultimately bad for humanity, to suspect that all blood is awful and dirty and carrying contagious death. It would be better to have compassion on those who certifiably have a blood-borne pathogen, treating them with respect and the care they need, but openly, so that we do not live with the terror of our own human blood.
I’ve worked in after-school childcare programs that deal with these things. I was siting with a second grade girl and a first grade boy one day, coloring pictures together. I commented on how pretty those flowery paper decorations are on the wall, the ones we pulled out of the leftover bin in the supplies closet. The little boy said, somberly,
“Those are from A’s dad’s memorial.”
“What?!” was my response. “Did he die?”
Both kids looked at me like I was an idiot who hadn’t heard.
“We all stood in a circle to sing and remember him,” said the little girl.
Apparently everyone knew except me. A was a fifth grade boy at the time who who was a regular in the after-school program. He had been misbehaving only a little, but I noticed many other adults coming by to tenderly ask him how he is doing. The program director hugged his mother. I wondered what happened, but figured that if it was my business, someone would tell me. But it turns out it sure was my business. I had missed a mere email relaying the news –really, a damn email announcing the death of a parent we all knew. I found out from two small children what I should’ve heard verbally from my adult colleagues. Good thing I didn’t say, “Hey, A, is your dad picking you up today?” –totally not knowing why that would devastate him. It was part of my job to interact with the parents at pick-up time and get the kids signed in and out. This was something I needed to know.
… … …
A younger relative of mine, when she was sixteen, went through a terrible episode of self harm and depression. I remember that I had called and emailed her to just ask how things are going, wanting to hear her voice. I had no knowledge of what she was going through. She had been hospitalized, the whole psychiatric works, and I didn’t know. Her mom had to clear the house of all objects my young relative could hurt herself with. It turned out her parents were also getting a divorce at the time, further breaking my family apart, and I didn’t know about it.
This, a family, isn’t some legalistic place of employment, but a paper-free biological web of relationships, of deeply personal memories, bound by ancestors and land. The human family should be there for its own more than any other human social unit in the world.
I pulled the truth out of my reluctant uncle, spilling the beans, and my grandmother, thwarting this life-threatening silencing.
“But I was trying to protect her privacy,” he said.
Yeah, I thought, and you’re also protecting the growth of her silence, shame and isolation while your at it.
And maybe my young relative did, at age sixteen, want all this to be kept a secret, but that didn’t make it the wise thing to do. Luckily, this story concludes well for her sake: she’s come far from those days and, last I knew, is doing extraordinarily better as a young graduate of high school confidently heading to college. I’m enormously proud of her, and relived that she was supported. And I still miss my family, the few who are left, more than I can say.
We are supposed to protect and empower minors. To hell with their massing embarrassment when real help is on the line. A good adult will know how to meet that feeling of shame with deep honor and respect for the young person, so that they know they do not have to feel ashamed in the first place. They’re not able to help themselves yet. They will thank us in the future.
Recomposed from an original journal entry written September 1st, 2016
memory of all nations,
remember the savannah
Do not forget us,
but accompany us,
friends of the heart,
on our trails into the future.
Remember us who come after you,
Remember us who go on before you,
Remember us who live in the heart-world around you.
… … …
I am one among millions who has known the loss of family. Maybe it is so that every living creature, when it becomes aware of its inevitable separateness from the beings most near it, feels this loss of unity, this severing of oneness. The genesis story of Eden is full of this metaphor. We were blind to our own abyssal awareness: then, we saw, and we became like gods, who who knew death, and the foresight of death, and the meaning of the anguish of self-awareness that accompanies the hominid brain.
I am a face in the sea of time: who will remember this one face? Genetics, maybe, or written words or painted images, better yet. Text is incarnated. You, God, would know most of all; You, who are always present and listening, it is your remembering us that I want for sure. You, who fill the whole earth with your breathing, must know and feel all that we feel in our creaturely lives. Being as that you are in us, and we are in you, then not one of us would be lost to the depths of time. And If you are truly omnipresent, then you would know how sacred the World is. I want to become an ancestor when it is my time. I never want to leave it.
Poetry by Gentle J. Pine
How quickly the days go by now, the weeks and the months and the years. All of a sudden I am closer to thirty than twenty. People twice my age laugh. Someday I will be countless years gone from this time. When I was a child, time crawled.
I have never had anxiety about aging until now. The only thing that matters, in the end, is looking back on a life that one has lived with purpose and dedication. I now see the signs of aging in my face, and I, too, am traveling the path of the ancestors. T is twelve years older than me, and the thought that he will likely die before I do is difficult already, but I will not be long after him.
I had a dream that T and I had grown old together and loved each other all our days. When he died, I looked for his spirit on a bright mountain. There was a tree of shimmering coppery-gold leaves, the color of his hair, and his spirit was in this tree. I went to him there and embraced him, my arms around the trunk of the happy tree, and I could feel his love eternally, and the whole soul of him in the tree enclosed me in his affection.
Buddha said, “I have gained nothing from meditation. But what I have lost: the fear of sickness, old age and death.”
I may never have children, but I don’t need to have any to feel very close to the lineage of humanity. This great love is the continuity of generations. I wonder if the fear of aging is the fear of losing touch with God, because we fear that we have not lived in the way we were meant to. I wonder if a happy aging and death is the peace of drawing nearer to God.
Animals live for a decade or so, a few species for many decades, but often we humans outlive our companion species. In some sense we humans are afflicted by the length of our lives. We must live with the conscious knowledge of our own coming death. I wonder if animals may also live with this knowledge, but they do so with more grace than we do. They do not worry about it. They simply live, and demonstrate real grace and wisdom in it. They do not mind how many years or months or days they have left. We humans carry the past and the future, struggling to stay in the present, because we remember the beloved dead of the past and the vital youths of the future in whom we hope to be born anew. This entire ancestral context of memory and love, of encircling relationships, relatives and rebirths: we keep in touch with the living and the dead.
The wisdom of the Western World, which does not need to be Eastern to be great, is fully at home with embracing and acknowledging humanity’s insatiable hunger for love and for life, even beyond death. However good Buddha’s wisdom was in its own way, it fails to be at peace (the very peace it proclaims?) with the fact that the heart of love is stronger than death. Desire is holy.
“Margaret the First” the playwright of 17th century England, married a man some twenty years her senior, and they were known to have loved each other dearly. In Danielle Dutton’s book about her life, it is recounted how they are not able to have children; one day, when she is middle-aged in her forties and he in his seventies, they kneel together beside the river, and in loving gentleness she still sees in him the handsome younger man she married, and he sees in her the young maiden likewise.
People live longer now. I spent the happier days of my childhood with my grandparents, aged 60 by the time I was born. I saw how they loved each other all the more securely in old age.
This is the way I will be with T. Age will make us love each other more.
Last night I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as a happy five-year-old in this house of my grandparents, with both my Grandma and Grandpa alive, healthy and vital, the decay of the future far away or nonexistent; that present that is now the past, eternal again in a child’s unending summer day. And I found myself crying quietly in Grandpa’s study where I sleep when I come to Fresno, California to visit, because he is ten years still gone and Grandma is here in body but is barely and unrecognizably tenuously “alive” in her spirit.
I’m twenty-eight now and, for the great majority of my adult life under the rational light of the sun, I am accepting of and at peace with the situation that has come to be: our time is one of seeing more beloved elderly people slowly and pitifully die than ever before in society, proportionate to the numbers of the young who must witness it. Our grandparents and parents, once all medical cures are exhausted, languish in a half-life awaiting death, this rite of passage of which I have increasing faith in as a great liberation and the ultimate cure itself. People are living longer, but not necessarily better lives past a certain point. It became known to me in the past few years that Grandpa had considered seeking physician-assisted self-euthanasia, had his incurable physical pain become unbearable and death had not taken him in his sleep. The thought of it would have been too hard for me to handle when, at his death, I was eighteen and he was eighty, but now I have more and more serious respect for the natural and ancient dignity in such a choice. I had the freedom to euthanize my beloved cat of thirteen years when her veterinary ailments became unbearable for her, but we are in such stupid denial about the dignity of human beings in valid situations being able to choose the same for themselves. Instead, we force our beloved humans to have their butts wiped by somebody else, a humiliation that should never be forcibly born by a person because those around them are too chicken-shit to accept the reality of death in The World.
Sometimes, it’s the very resiliency of human beings that scares me so much: we can go through any hell and keep living. Other animals are not averse to the peace of death as a natural response to a suddenly severely maladaptive environment. But we humans are terrifying in our ruthless, pertinacious will to keep breathing through any plague, and now I wonder what this insect-like insistence has made of us. We have become titans of battle against everything, against our own brains and against Nature itself, and we have become unloving of Reality, at odds with The World, constantly unaccepting of the limits of the universe. Do I share in this same inclination to be at odds with The World in my childlike longing for a theoretical universe that could have (should have, would have, but only might have) been?
I was a child of the 1990s. I’ve long had a quietly uncanny feeling that something happened in the ’90s, and it was the end of the world. It was the end– or maybe the world spun off into different directions, dimensions, and this who I am in one of them is not who I am in another. And yet I do not feel divided within myself: through all my depression and the shit I went through as a kid with an insanely emotionally abusive mom with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have had the great luck of always feeling continuously whole within myself. Imaginatively, this uncanny sense of differing possible realities is more that I was pulled into one possible universe where things were not as whole all was meant to be, and something was off, only because, in contrast, I also glimpsed that deep Beauty of the Original World peeking through into this one. As a child, I saw this through the lens of my family. And who I am here have always been a little exorcist, who descended only deeply enough in time and in worlds within worlds to confront something, finish something, set something right. And any day now I will find my way back home to where I am supposed to be, waking up, relieved, from a dream.
Back in this world, I have lately been enjoying the lighter quality of trying not to feel so much all the time, for once in my life: my nature is to be so deeply feeling that it is frequently maladaptive to my environment, and I am weak and as yet unskilled in spinning this sensitivity into strands of gold. And now it suddenly and forbiddingly occurs to me that this ability to turn away from the tender heart is the necessary –and terrifyingly natural– shadow underlying my hominid ability to uncanny adaptation. How comfortable we are pressed to become among prolonged sickness and wrongful decay in our dogged search between a rock and a hard place for survival: the loss of tender feeling for that shimmering Original World, peeking through the slats of our weighted days, becomes an unbearable heartache for those with too much to carry. So much of an aging human life is full with the totalistic and unbending trial of coming to accept the absolute finality of death and loss, when still our persistent hearts in their deepest chambers yearn for life eternal. Among all of this, we must find a way to be happy– on pain of death. No wonder that those who find a path of absolute acceptable of reality while somehow keeping a tender heart are rightly called the saints of our species. And so I wonder if the Christians really have it right about something: humanity’s omnipresent longing for a semblance of eternal life, evident in all cultures, makes me wonder if there’s really something to it, in the way that hunger is an indicator that food exists somewhere.
But I am here now, born into this land of the vast old Earth, where my species is restless and beautiful and full of ancient and unknowable strangeness. Drifting into sleep last night I heard the night birds of this warm valley cooing their evening song from their perches and nests, calling steadily to their mates in their peaceful language, comforting their young in their downy breasts. I know their names, some of them, and the names and intimate formations of the trees that they love, that I love with a tender heart, that are bequeathed to me in an unending ancestry of natural lives in exchange. It was the Descent of Man, a going-down which Darwin spoke of, into the World to be among it completely, in totality. And in this moment of my brief human heart in the glorious life of the dark Earth I want nothing more than to be among the sounds of the night-songs forever, here in The World, so deeply is their avian comfort entwined with the blanketing world of the dusk, the old bones of the mother-sound of my animal life.