Repairing a Broken World

The hebrew expresion “Tikkun Olam” literally means “to repair the world.” Ideologically it suggests a wholehearted acceptance of the world’s brokenness along with our ability to repair it, or at least our ability to try. It does not point to a particular time or transgression. It does not cast blame. It does not indulge the notion of absolute good or evil. It simply accepts that we live in a broken world and and can, or should (if and when we are ready), reach towards its repair. —Harriet Fasenfest, The Householders Guide to the Universe

I have learned a great deal of humility as I grow in my ability to join our collective repairing of this broken world.

I have at times found myself at a loss to define what “repairing” looks like to me. On the one hand I am impatient with small things like switching to cloth napkins (though please do it if you haven’t yet), and yet it can also take me a very long time to do something as basic as making my own household cleaning solutions. What’s more, as a high achiever, I’m drawn to the dramatic, all or none No Impact Man style changes. Eat only local food! Grow it all! No plastic! Don’t buy anything! No car! Repent!

Sigh.

When our family ended our plastic fast, I felt like a failure for returning to a relatively “normal” life. Still, I knew I had to go in search of balance, and so I surrendered my idea of what I should be doing. I focused my attention on nurturing my family and myself. I learned how to breathe through temper tantrums, to knit and sew, to discover how abundant life on a small single income can be. I carried on with my garden, with milking goats once a week, with hanging the laundry on the line, with building friendships and connection with my community.

I grew and grew and grew.

And the other day I looked around my kitchen and saw that yes, there are plenty of little bits of plastic packaging and such, but actually not very much. We have organically grown away from once ingrained patterns and habits of consumption. While the rules of our fast did foster amazing change and insight in a short period, over the last few years we’ve naturally come to embody that change more fully, more authentically.

For me, a big part of this repair work is an inner repair, one that moves beyond a Type-A Save the World mentality, and towards something infinitely more mysterious.

When we open our hearts to living in a way that strives towards repair, it is our own brokenness that is mended. That must be the first step, for it is our own healing that will guide us to heal the world we inhabit. We have a lot of learning and remembering to do. Just that is enough to fuel our spirits for the good work before us, as we discover the goodness of what it means to create things by hand, to grow things, to lift our voices in song, to really love and nurture, to be whole.

Sometimes it happens by accident. We begin with an action to heal the world, and find ourselves changed for the better. That’s good, too.

Here is something I never thought I’d say out loud: It doesn’t matter what you are doing. It doesn’t matter if you are doing big things or little things, nothing or everything. What matters is that we are all finding our way back to that wholeness. And changing the world from there.

Because I am at home, and it suits my nature, I do what I am doing. Mind the children. Search for beauty. Meet as many of our needs as I can by creating and repairing. Grow a few more vegetables every year, gather herbs from the mountains. Get a little more skilled at all this, a little less awkward. Not worry so much about what other people are or are not doing. Or if anyone is noticing what I’m doing.

So we raise our families and our gardens. We grow out of our radical youths. We may or may not get rid of the car, or have a solar panel array, or ever quite quit plastic. But we do get much better at many things, and also much humbler. Our work of repairing turns out to be about building a new way of life, rather than simply dismantling the old one.

And that will keep us busy for now.

Living the Questions

I’ll confess I’ve lain awake at night (well, once, after eating too much chocolate) wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into. What are the “rules?” How will we keep to them? And why, exactly, are we doing this? Depending on my mood this scheme to go plastic free can seem anything from absurd to impossible to the best thing we’ve ever done. That we are sharing it here, well, that adds an edge. What if we “fail” in front of everyone?

Of course, there’s nothing to fail at. This isn’t a contest or a dictate that we must follow Or Else. It is simply an experiment in simple living. What will happen when we stop buying plastic, I can’t say. We’ve made this commitment in order to find out. Rather than worrying over the details of how we’re going to pull this off, or what it is we’re attempting, I’d like to share two of the larger questions that have guided me on my journey thus far.

In her book The Open Space of Democracy Terry Tempest Williams confronts ecological complacency by asking, “At what point do we finally lay our bodies down to say this blatant disregard for biology and wild lives is no longer acceptable?” She also asks, “If I am committed to seeing the direction of our country [world] change, how must I change myself?” Folks, I have no idea what the answers are. All I can say is that I’ve reached that point and am setting out on a journey of change, curious to find out.

In fact, you might say that if we’re making any kind of a New Year’s resolution, it’s to live those questions more fully and more fearlessly.