“Earth that gave us food to eat, Sun that made it grow, thank you Earth, thank you Sun to you our lives we owe.” These are the words little Junior tearfully recites as he stands in a cobweb veiled corner of the classroom. He grudgingly explains to me that he was only attempting to negotiate with a grasshopper that, it seems, was unreasonably reluctant to part with a leg. At a tender three years Junior is already being made aware of the destructive impact of his actions on his surroundings and how much potential he has, to foul his immediate environment.
We live in an era of the most concentrated environmental destruction the world has ever known. The lessons Junior learns as a child, about the rights of grasshoppers, will hopefully encourage in him a sense of responsibility towards his environs, which many people in modern society essentially lack. We seem engaged in a suicidal rush to destroy the treasures of our world.
How much do our beliefs, I wonder, affect our treatment of our planet? We all perceive the world through the eyes of belief. By understanding literally and allegorically where we fall in the hierarchy of nature, we form a concept of our position and subsequently our responsibility towards nature, either as the masters of it or simply existing as subordinate creatures within its order.
I had the pleasure once, of sharing a dirty stone bench with a street preacher on his coffee break. Having cultivated the bizarre familiarity that develops from sharing personal space with a total stranger, I was appalled and even somewhat hurt, when he noisily crushed his Styrofoam cup and threw it into a murky puddle of water. How, I asked him, could he with complete and utter disregard for the deplorable state of the environment (this must have been shortly after a lecture on filing law suits), throw a Styrofoam cup onto the ground? The look of amusement on his face would have been enough to mortally vex an army of Amazons, but my anger was restrained by his plain response. “The Earth is the Lord’s. We are the Lord’s chosen ones and therefore the Earth is ours’.”
I find it hard to imagine that we, in our role as the “stewards of creation”, have such arbitrary authority over it. Like three year old Junior, perhaps we all need to be reminded that this planet is the source of our sustenance and that we cannot take for granted the catalogue of ecological woes that our generation boasts of. My preacher friend is right in many ways. The Earth is ours but without the Earth we would quite probably cease to exist.
I walked away from the preacher, as quickly as one can while avoiding the inevitable filth of unaccounted for puddles of water in the middle of the City, defiantly stopping to pick up the Styrofoam cup. I was less concerned about the preacher’s ecological misdemeanors than I was about the truth of my own attitudes towards the Earth, despite my stylish declarations in its defense. Human beings are creatures accustomed to praise. Every time a cat purrs or a fish bangs its face on an aquarium wall as it ogles us we are reminded of our necessity and reassured of our position in the universe. Are we really the main fruit and purpose of creation or are our powers and responsibilities only relevant within the context of a greater whole of which we are but a small part of?
I’ve recently taken to saying Juniors blessing. “…Thank you Earth, thank you Sun to you our life we owe.” This is my way of humbly, and perhaps uselessly, apologizing for my countless breaks with the rhythm of nature. I realize that I cannot possibly pick up every Styrofoam cup or plastic bag or bottle top that I ever see. As I walk past them, eyes averted in shame, I can’t help but wonder when exactly our belief systems became so distorted as to be incapable of delivering us from the environmental chaos we have created. Occasionally when I call on Junior in his classroom, I can see that he is no longer puzzled by the apparent selfishness of six legged creatures. He is becoming more creative than destructive. I hope that the world will soon be in better hands.
My vision if to use my voice to create an atmosphere where childhood can thrive, and that the earth might continue to support life, for centuries to come.