I’ve been meaning to write this letter to you for a while now. In a way, I’ve been meaning to write it ever since I felt you kick for the first time and it hit me that you were real – a tiny person, mine and the world’s.
The summer that I was pregnant with you saw the worst wildfire season in Western Montana in over a generation. For nearly six weeks straight, smoke from fires both near and far filled the Missoula Valley. Staying indoors as much as possible, I was grateful for portable air cleaners going nonstop but feeling cooped up started to take its toll. I worried about the smoke’s impact on your tiny developing lungs, but also about how the longer, more intense and frequent smoke seasons predicted for Missoula in the coming years would cast a dark shadow over your childhood experience of summer.
Now as I write this letter more than two years later, I’m looking out the window in the middle of January to a nearly snow-less valley here in Missoula. So far at least, it feels like the winter that hasn’t been. The warmer temperatures and dry sidewalks are strange and unsettling.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Australia is burning, engulfed in bushfires that are ravaging landscapes, killing unprecedented numbers of precious wild animals, and endangering human health and lives. This is just one of many climate-fueled disasters in recent memory. It is heartbreaking – it should be heartbreaking – and yet, the global response to this devastation – and to the climate crisis in general – has been desperately inadequate. We add it to the list of bad things happening; keep our emotional distance. I, too, am often guilty of compartmentalizing my sadness just to get through the day. Have we reached our collective limit and are unable – or unwilling – to feel the pain of those suffering from climate chaos, near or far? Is this what coping with the climate crisis looks like?
I refuse to accept this. It won’t be easy, but I promise to reject the forces of apathy, isolation, and defeat that tug ever more forcefully as this crisis worsens, and try their best to harden us to the pain of the world.
Instead, I promise to embrace the forces of love, connection, and courage.
Though my spiritual journey has been winding and rocky, one truth I return to and that is reflected in all the great world religions is the call to an ever-widening circle of love and care. From mother to son, to neighbors, to community, to country, to the world, and to all living beings and landscapes: as humans, we exist for love.
This means we are bound to be heartbroken. In fact, that’s the normal response, and we need to create space for that grief and bring it to the surface, otherwise it turns to poison that numbs us from the inside out. But heartbreak isn’t the end of the story, and the answer isn’t to stop caring. Paradoxically, heartbreak can be mended with more of the same thing that caused it: love.
In this world that is changing before our eyes, I believe that is our task: standing unflinchingly on the side of love, connecting with others, and forging ahead together. I promise to do this to the best of my ability, by being engaged in my community, voting and participating as an active citizen, taking what personal actions I can, and always seeking to widen my circle of concern. I desperately hope that I have been a good, if flawed, role model for you as you’ve learned to navigate this beautiful but hurting world.
As I write this, you are about to turn two in a couple months. You’re talking up a storm and opinionated and silly and sweet. I knew I would love you, but I had no idea just how much you would delight me, and how much I’d just plain enjoy being with you. I have no doubt that, as you read this 30 years from now, these feelings remain just as strong. And it fills me with love and pride to think about all the possible things you might be doing out there in the world, being your Soren self.
I promise to do all I can, today and every day of the rest of my life, to turn my love into action, and never stop working to build the kind of world that you – and all children – deserve.
With all my love,