I was at the park with my girl Cora talking with another parent. It was a brilliant day, cripsy with snow but warm in that way that New Mexico at midday in January can be. We were in good spirits, our talk bubbling with passion and humor while the kids played. We covered politics and parenting, restoration efforts on our local river, and, you know, Everything Else.
And then I blithely mentioned the gyres, the “patches” of floating plastic that are like loosely formed continents in all the world’s seas. My friend hadn’t heard about them before. He grew quiet. So did I. A moment of silence at the playground for the world’s oceans.
I remembered how I felt when I first learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and others like it: Horrified. Overwhelmed. Helpless. Sick. It is a tremendous realization, that one, on par with understanding that we are in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction, that climate change will not be reversed (sorry, the supreme court has me down), that we have caused irreparable damage on a scale we still don’t fully understand.
“Makes you realize that there’s so little we can do,” my friend said at last. I nodded. I’m no stranger to that feeling. For years I didn’t really do much at all because of how vast the problems seemed and how small I felt. So in addition to doing nothing beyond the small things I felt were enough–the convenient, affordable, and not requiring any compromise things like recycling, changing light bulbs, and hanging clothes on the line–I did one rather unsurprising thing.
I turned away from the suffering of the world. I turned away from my fear. I accepted that my smallness was valid, and let it hamper not only my thoughts but my actions. I blamed the government for its lack of will. I blamed the corporations for their insane greed. I blamed my fellow citizens for being what our culture has made us. So long as I maintained the story that I was helpless and passive, I felt safe from the blame.
I mean, I’ve known about the gyres for years. Years! When did I decide to do something about it? Three months ago. Will what I’m doing make a difference? Probably not. All along I’ve called our choice to learn to live with less plastic a symbolic action. An act of solidarity with the ocean. With the fish and turtles and birds. With the world’s poor who simply don’t have the choice to over-consume. With my grandchildren. It’s all of those things, but most of all it’s the best way we could think of to break out of our cycle of inaction, our belief that because there’s so little we could do, we didn’t really need to do anything.
It doesn’t matter, ultimately, if this small step can heal the oceans. What matters is our attempt to live in a way that is conducive rather than obstructive to that healing.
So I nodded understandingly to my friend. “There aren’t any easy solutions,” I said. “Just lot’s of good places to start.”