Our terminal decline – face it with flowers

Someone told me this afternoon of a friend diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months to live. She set about tying loose ends, resolving issues with others, saying goodbyes, and preparing for her transition from this life in practical ways to make things as easy as possible for her son. Apparently she died with dignity. She had a straightforward awareness of what she needed to do and of what was happening to her.

The teller of this simple tale used it as analogy.

There is news today that greenhouse gas emissions have reached a concentration of 455ppm (parts per million), ten years earlier than predicted based on past trends. If you accept the science of human-induced global warming, you’ll likely be upset. It means that the threshold to a two-degrees-celsius temperature rise has passed – and a host of remorseless knock-on effects are increasingly probable, as are recounted in this video clip.

With such news comes the implication that there is little cause for hope. The future for the human species as a whole, or the majority of the global human population (some may survive), is looking very precarious. It is as if we are being served with the diagnosis of a terminal illness.

So what now?

As the teller of the above tale went on to ask, if faced with this diagnosis and the news we have only six months to live, do we give up and abandon ourselves to recklessness? Or do we face the future with dignity, face the facts, squarely acknowledging our role in our predicament, and prepare for our own transition from this life?

I agreed, we should hope the latter – for psychological, aesthetic and moral reasons. Littering the pavement is ugly and just doesn’t feel good. Also, predictions are not the same as actuality. The complete catastrophe or holocaust scenarios have not been reached. Warnings are not the same as certainty. We may avoid the direst outcomes through our ingenuity. And notwithstanding the warnings of rational and sane people, the world does not work in straightforward ways. There is plenty of indeterminacy and non-linearity in the universe to mean unforeseen dynamics may not necessitate worst-case scenarios; there is so much we do not know. And miracles do happen.

So, whilst the situation is not looking good, we do not need to lose hope or heart.

Which leads me to another story that moved me today; it doesn’t answer the above questions – but it is related.

A colleague was working in Southern Sudan with a community of women who had lost their men-folk in the civil war, and who had set up their own community in an area that I understood to be remote and arid. These traumatised women found some solace in planting, and tending, a garden of cultivated flowers around the perimeter fence of their compound. This was no trivial undertaking; the water they poured on the flower-beds was a precious commodity. (My colleague worked with them to grow tomatoes, too, but these met with less interest).

One day, the compound came under attack from the air, and the women fled to a gully as their village was bombed. Their over-riding concern, as testified by my colleague, was not for their houses or livestock, but for their flowers.

– from valuingnature.org.


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