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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Last fall while driving my son to school, I took a shortcut I’d never tried before and was immediately pulled over by a police officer for making an illegal left hand turn between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m. What struck me as I was pulled over was not what I felt but what I didn’t feel: fear. As a white middle-class woman, it never occurred to me to rehearse how to handle a situation with a cop. I didn’t worry about keeping my hands visible at all times, nor did I worry about my teenage son sitting next to me doing so either.

In her book, So You Want to Talk About Race, author Ijeoma OIuo talks about the fear she’s experienced when “being pulled over for driving while Black.” Not only is she careful not to make a move without the officer’s permission, she sends out a quick Tweet to let her friends know she’s been pulled over in case she doesn’t make it out alive.

In “Where Will You Stand?” Rev. angel Kyodo williams writes, “If you have ever wondered how you would have shown up in the face of the challenge put before white America when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, upending the accepted social order, now is the time you will find out.”

Her words resonate even more loudly today following the police killing of George Floyd.

So how can white people show up? That’s the question many are asking these days. The most helpful answer I’ve heard was from a young Black man speaking recently at an anti-racism rally. He asked anyone in the crowd who had never experienced racism to put up their hands. As we held our hands up, he asked us to look around at one another and told us we were the ones who needed to do something about racism. And if we didn’t know what to do, he implored us, “Don’t do nothing.”

Eradicating racism isn’t the responsibility of those who experience it, but rather is the responsibility of those who don’t. …

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photo by Noah Silliman, Unsplash

We have a saying where I’m from: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change. Perhaps you say it where you live too. Somehow it’s not difficult to see the impermanence of weather, but when it’s a difficult state of affairs, or an unwelcome emotion, it can feel like it’s here to stay.

As the pandemic rages on and people’s lives are turned upside down, it’s harder to see that this too will change. We talk about “the new normal,” as though our world were predictable, reliable, and permanent.

Buddhism, of course, reminds us that everything is impermanent. No matter how hard we try to hold on, there is nothing to grasp. But as Thich Nhat Hanh explains, impermanence also makes everything possible: “If a grain of corn were not impermanent, it could never provide us with the ear of corn we eat.” Without impermanence, there are no grandchildren, no new adventures, no changing seasons.

Sometimes we temporarily make our peace with impermanence while still deceiving ourselves with the thought that things will eventually return to the way they were. In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, The life you thought you were going to have is gone,” Lori Fox names the truth: there is no going back — there never was. Fox says about this time of coronavirus: “We are allowed to be anxious and afraid right now. We have lost a world. You’ve got permission to grieve. But in doing that, we might ask if the world we have lost is really as good as we remember, if it was serving the life we hoped we would have.”

Each of us will have our own answer. Regardless, impermanence isn’t negotiable. Make no mistake, the Buddhist teachings aren’t telling us to give up or give in; rather they are inviting us to let go of grasping to a nonexistent solid self or world. …

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As I write this, I’m in week seven of “self-isolation” with my husband and teenage son, doing my part to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Just over two weeks ago, a gunman was shot down thirty minutes from my home, after a killing spree that left twenty-two people dead, the worst mass shooting in Canadian history. Yesterday, it snowed, covering the green grass and spring flowers.

Nothing is as it should be. The world has been turned upside down.

Like you, perhaps, I’m trying to make sense of this moment. In my search for answers, I’ve turned to the teachings we’ve published in Buddhadharma over the past eighteen years, eager to find the missing pieces of what feels like a challenging puzzle. …

As the climate crisis worsens, and the window to solve it is quickly closing, we have a choice to make: we can shut down in fear or lean in and open our hearts even more.

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Volunteer firefighter rescues a koala in an Australian bushfire, December 2019

The die is cast, so I’m told. There isn’t enough political momentum to turn the tide on climate change anytime soon. And even if there were, there is no guarantee that it isn’t already too late to avert a complete climate and ecological breakdown.

This outlook — pessimistic or realistic, depending on your point of view — is cropping up more and more. At times I find it numbing, but mostly it’s oddly reassuring — not because I want to hasten the end, but because the unspeakable is being spoken.

How do you live a life knowing that the future of everything is at stake? That’s the question that wrestles inside me now and touches everything I see and do. …

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The other day my son asked me if we could go to Japan some day. We live in Nova Scotia, more than 10,000 kilometres (or 6000 miles) away. I replied that I was having some moral dilemmas about traveling. I’m still figuring out how to plot my carbon footprint for trips, but several articles about the impact of air travel on global warming have made that reality all too clear.

When I was a youth I took part in an exchange program in Mali. It was a profound experience that helped shape my view of the world and my commitment to becoming a responsible global citizen. I went on to volunteer for a work brigade in Central America, spent a year working for an NGO in Africa, and another year working with the Inuit in Canada’s Arctic. …

The young climate change activist says someday children may ask, “Why didn’t you do anything while there was still time to act?” The question haunts me.

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Greta Thunberg, photo by Anders Hellberg

In a TED talk last November, the sixteen-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg wondered whether the children and grandchildren of the future will ask, “Why didn’t you do anything while there was still time to act?”

It’s a question that’s haunted me, even before I knew Greta had posed it to the world.

I woke up late to the climate crisis. I first remember feeling it in my bones during the summer of 2016 as temperatures in my city became unbearably hot. Back then there wasn’t much talk in the media about how heat waves and other extreme weather events were linked to climate change, so it was still possible to keep my head semi-submerged in ignorance and denial. But that ended in October of last year when the IPCC report came out stating we had only twelve years left to make the necessary changes to prevent global warming from going above 1.5 degrees celsius, beyond which we would see catastrophic results. …


Tynette Deveaux

Editor, writer, and mother who wants action on climate change.

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