One of the great things about being a social reporter is that it gives me a firm connection to people from other transition initiatives. I get to know them through their writing and occasionally we even meet face to face. Some of us met at my project in Finsbury Park, including Teen, who just turned up one day at exactly the right moment! I've been to stay with Charlotte and Mark in Suffolk and I've just come back from staying with Ann in Wales. I was going to write about my trip to Wales - Ann's excellent market garden, her lovely supportive family, my visit to CAT and the book I read on the train home, but it suddenly seems a bit pointless. What I'm really thinking about is Adrienne. She's the social reporter from Lewes who is very ill – Ben Brangwyn wrote about her here. Since writing that, her condition has worsened and Adrienne is inspiring us all with her bravery and honesty: "I can feel my body closing down. And I know it doesn't really square, but it's just what's happening to me now. And how do I feel about dying? Well I don't really know what's going to happen. I know that there's lots of stories about it but I don't know anything. I just know that I'm going towards the unknown and I am sort of ready. (...) I'm not afraid, it's the next great adventure."
When someone dies like this, so young, it simply feels wrong. In spite of all the positive framing and of a yearning for peace and for acceptance, part of me believes it shouldn't be happening. She shouldn't be dying but the cancer got her. The cancer is to blame and we can project what we like onto what that cancer means. But it shouldn't be happening.
The senselessness of cancer, its runaway symptoms, its invasion, its sweeping statements, disempowers us. It's the same feeling I get looking at our chronically ill planet. As it becomes less and less able to support human life – that tiny tiny margin of temperature and atmosphere that works for us – I feel the same fear, outrage and impotence.
One of the things we did to try and help Adrienne was to focus on her at a regular time every day, visualising her being fit and healthy. I enjoyed doing this because it felt as if I was doing something and it made me feel connected to Adrienne and to all the other people who were doing it at the same time. I felt connected to them just as I feel connected to other people working for positive change, through transition or whatever. I wanted to believe that the power of positive thinking would cure Adrienne just as I want to believe that the power of positive acts, through transition, will ensure our survival.
I realise those are two independent corollaries, but the process of mentally shifting towards an acceptance of failure is identical. I think we should consider accepting that although we may leave the world a much better place, it is a world that is irreversibly changed and perhaps fatally ill. We might have to let go of thinking about the survival of humans and start hoping that any life will continue. At the end of the Permian era, over 250 million years ago, 96% of sea life species and 70% of land vertebrates became extinct. Perhaps we should take that on board.
So talk to me about connecting with others, about acceptance, about living fearlessly, about being the change we want to see in the world. Explain to me how these aren't merely ways to make ourselves feel good about what we're doing.
“Only Connect” is a quote from Howard's End by EM Forster
"Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the gray, sober against the fire." (…) "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."
but I didn't mean that. I was thinking more about connections between people.