Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Living Well in the Apocalypse

Recently our dinner time conversation was about how we should live, going into the apocalypse: admit defeat and carry on as usual, or fight for our lives. This, apparently, is parenting in 2018. And I believe in having all the hard discussions, because I want to raise thoughtful, well-prepared humans. Our discussion wasn't easy; we didn't all agree, but there seemed to be a current of unity: We don't know what to do. We've never been a family to give up easily, but in this case it's hard to get our heads around how we would survive the enormity of the horrors we see on the horizon.

In the past few years we've seen a sudden increase in climate-related disasters: countless thousands dead from fires, storms, heatwaves and drought. Millions displaced. And it's not just nameless faceless people; it's people we know. We're already accustomed to seeing social media posts of our friends fleeing and documenting disaster. We're already accustomed to living in the smoke and ash of burned lives every summer.

The reality of climate apocalypse has finally begun to hit mainstream news in the form of brazen apocalyptic declarations. Chris Hedges and others are warning of an imminent economic collapse.  The elite of our world (and even my own community) are buying up acreage in remote tropical places and hiring consultants to help them stockpile and guard their wealth in the form of food. Even the middle class is now beginning to stockpile emergency food for the disaster we know is coming (yes there are some great Black Friday deals out there if you fancy a decades-long-diet of freeze-dried foods). But it isn't packaged food or armed bunkers that will save us, people! It's each other.

Apparently the UN says climate genocide is coming. New York Magazine says it's actually worse than that: "To avoid warming of the kind the IPCC now calls catastrophic requires a complete rebuilding of the entire energy infrastructure of the world, a thorough reworking of agricultural practices and diet to entirely eliminate carbon emissions from farming, and a battery of cultural changes to the way those of us in the wealthy West, at least, conduct our lives." Yes, we're going to have to stop consuming like the credit-fueled fiends that we are.

We sure love to consume stuff. Never mind the usual purchases at online and brick and mortar stores; we've even found ways to consume after the money is gone. We pick up goods marked 'free' from the side of the road; we peruse the collection of working and broken electronics at the recycling depot. We choose foods and other essentials that come with freebies even when we know we'll never use them. When people in my house are bored or momentarily unoccupied, we often stroll through the kitchen for a snack - literally consuming just to fill the void of downtime. Sometimes I check Facebook. Or Instagram and email and phone messages. I turn on the radio. I try to reach for another cup of tea instead of food, but I'm still reaching for a fix. I hate downtime. We have trained ourselves to consume - whether media, food, entertainment, or manufactured goods - just to fix the downtime; to fill the void that might otherwise have been filled with love.

It isn't that we don't have love. In my family we are blessed with plenty of it. But we've become so accustomed to the fast pace of our world - to the constant intake of information and product - that we feel lost as soon as the hubbub lets up. Love is a quiet thing. It takes downtime: space and time and an uncluttered closeness to allow ourselves to be filled by only love. Still, we can.

So I decided to make a change. Downtime. No more TV, I said. No more hooking up the Netflix in our living room in the evening. And we spent our first evening listening to records, together, sitting around our delightfully peaceful living room in the warmth of the fire, reading and drawing and hearing some music we hadn't bothered to listen to in years. For just a few hours, we had our family back. If we want to live well in the apocalypse, we're going to have to re-learn how to love being together, instead of just residing under the same roof.

We're also going to have to learn to live with less. Less food, less convenience, and probably far less purchasing of goods than we think is possible. And it's Christmas time! Black Friday sales have been in full swing for days and it's not even Wednesday yet! Who doesn't love showering our loved ones with gifts (and really - just buying things in general?!) But we can't anymore. And that reality is starting to hit home, even for my kids. We tried going gift-free a few years ago, and while some supported the idea, we also faced some serious anger from friends and family, who, above all else, called us selfish and ungrateful. The gift-free Christmas idea ended up being just within our own household. But here's the thing: We're happy! My children are not feeling deprived; they don't feel unloved. In fact I think they feel empowered! This year they got together to write and illustrate a children's book about giving intangible gifts. My kids' favourite memories are of the adventures we've taken together, and the traditions we hold dear, like particular songs we sing at particular times, the way we set the table for each other's birthdays, and the customary foods we bake for certain holidays. The memories we cherish have everything to do with time spent in loving connection, and that's something that the end of consumerism will only mean more of.

This year our family's gift to each other is a snow adventure with my partner's sister and her family! We're going to spend a weekend playing together, cooking up good local foods, playing in the snow, and enjoying each other's company in the winter nights. So all three cousins in this little family will share this beautiful gift, making space in our traditions and in our hearts for the "battery of cultural changes" that now seem imminent. This Christmas can be a last kick at the consumerism can, or it can be a great platter of opportunity for new ways of giving. We don't intend to go into this darkness kicking and screaming, nor even with a cache of survival foods. We're going in with a burning light of hope and love: family who sees that being together is the only gift we need.