Radical Restoration

by Judy Todd

The Set Up

I was born into a world of white privilege, of entitlement, and with an assumption that everything around me was here for me. Without knowing any differently through the teachings of my school, my home, or my church, this was the way it was: whatever you had the money for could be yours and the most important thing was to have the money. 

Yes, there was talk. There was talk about sharing. Maybe with a brother, or a sister, maybe with the kid next-door, or with the starving children in China…we were told to clean our plates because those children had none. There was talk of how I should care about the needs of my younger five siblings, or do what the adults decided, often by giving up what I held dearest at the time. I didn’t understand the logic or how to be grateful for what was left over that I could call my own.

There was a lot I didn’t understand, and it was not fruitful to ask. So, there was no talk about these strange rules that seemed to be so inarguable. And there was no talk about how it was ok to question others’ behaviors or actions. And there was no talk about what we owed to the greater community or the larger world. And there was no talk about what we owed to the earth, to the living body of the natural world that let us live. And of course, there was no talk about our absolute reliance upon Earth for all our real wealth and our very lives. It didn’t seem important then.

Instead, what seemed important was going to school and getting good grades, to church, to the store, to your cousin’s or your friend’s house, and later, to work. Some times were more special: birthdays, holidays, travel, buying clothes and toys, and books and crayons for the new school year. Spending time and money in the plentitude of our modern, progressive world seemed like the most important, most normal life—the good life.

And that was my life growing up in white western America in the 1950s. This life did not explore ethical, moral or ecological questions of the haves and the have-nots, of over-use and mis-use of our water and air and lands, of our place in the greater circle of life. And by the end of the 1950’s this trance of the modern world was happening all around, and picking up speed. This was an American blindness in the aftermath of the two great wars where everyone who was on the winning team was ready to have a new world. We never asked, "at what price?"

The Wake Up

“I’m ruined!” I had returned to the Pacific NW and my home from Washington, DC. I’d arrived at the White House gates on November 1 st, 2014 with the country-crossing Great March for Climate Action. Now back home I felt anxious, angry, confused, and despairing. I couldn’t hear, read, or witness business as usual without being confronted over and over by the climate crisis to which I had powerfully awakened during my three months on the eight-month march. I felt completely unable to reckon with my failure as Earth’s good citizen. How could I actually make the tremendous changes needed now in my daily life, let alone make any difference anywhere else, in the face of this growing knowledge?

I did not wish to be the harbinger of desperate news creating hopelessness and guilt in my family and friends. Was I to turn off all the heat and lights to my own joy, and despair that our population of humans would never change? What could I do as the ecosystems continued to unravel? How could I help ward off global calamity? I asked myself these questions night after night as I tossed and turned, trying to imagine how to live my life forward. Did I have to keep butting my head up against feeling helpless at the ever increasing numbers of climate refugees, sacrifice zones and unending losses? How to support countless beings in their struggles to save their lives, homes, and children while caught in my own white privileged culture? I understood the game was rigged. My own life had been part of this colonized, industrialized structure. Clearly no matter what I might do, I would not individually change the system. I might be part of a continuing evolution, but in the meantime, how to live in the searing awareness of all this?

Unexpectedly, as I thrashed about in this angst-ridden quandary, something began to arise from a quiet, yet embodied place within me. It was a place I’d known as a 10-year-old kid living on the Siltcoos River with frogs, tadpoles, and crawfish. I knew it from miles of hiking among firs, cedars, and high lakes, and along miles of river banks during years of backpacking and camping. And it was a place I knew more recently by walking and biking the desert lands, over mountains and through towns, sleeping night after night under the moon and stars during the three months and 700 miles I spent on the Climate March.

I turn to all that remembering now and find a kind of restoration. In that restoring of myself, I am expanding and deepening my aliveness and connection with all I love: the people, the lands, the birds, the animals, the waters, the air, the trees that provide our breath, the great ice that helps to regulate Earth’s temperature. As I learn, educate, witness and act, I feel loss and grief. I also feel empowered and unafraid. As I imagine life for future beings, including my four grandchildren, I feel I must act personally and publically to reduce the damage, as long and as much as I can.

The Now What?

Here in my beloved Pacific Northwest, I’m choosing Radical Restoration—mine, for starters. Not very patriotic if that means to extract, use, throw away, spend, shop and buy more, new, and better. But since I am giving up those habits of the "small c" (clutter, consumerism, capitalism, and crap), that version of patriotism no longer applies to me. My patriotic fireworks are more about lighting a fire under myself on behalf of the "BIG C" (Connection, Creativity, Collaboration, Conservation, and Community).

Radical Restoration includes a commitment to healing. It means being thoughtful with choices I make—like not buying things, especially new or improved, or new at all. Do I need it, irrespective of whether or not I want it? Is it recycled? Can it be recycled after I use it? Is it re-useable or does it become trash? And, what is my dollar actually paying for? And whose bank account is it going into?

And at what real cost?

Radical Restoration includes allowing myself to disregard the culture’s norms and expectations—like those presented in the media, signboards, business logos, fashions, store fronts, computer pop-ups, radio ads, newspapers, TV— in other words, all the daily messages! It also means letting go of whatever criticisms, judgments or opinions others may have about me.

My current, personal working project is to:

  • CONNECT with my heart-self, with Earth, with others, including the non-human others.

  • CREATE a way of living that refuses, reduces, reuses, repurposes, re-invents and recycles without adding to the stream of expendables and disposables and more trash.

  • CONSERVE what we strangely call our natural resources, and thus step back and away from participating in the extractive, destructive plundering of Earth. Reduce my own consumption of water, electricity, goods and fuels. Turn to renewables every place I can.

  • COLLABORATE with willing others to carry the message of Radical Restoration; share the joy of trying new ways of living, and generate beauty, joy, and fun doing it.

  • COMMUNITY BUILD, also called sharing with others. Share the knowledge we gain, share our stand, share food and clothes, books and belongings, share housing and transportation. Share our passions and our stories. Be surprisingly, authentically lighthearted and joyous about it.

I am imagining that this all this will require some sacrifice on my part, a new simplicity. I look to Kathleen Norris in Dakota: A Spiritual Biography, who says it this way:

“Surrendering to reduced circumstances in a manner that enhances the whole person is a radical way of knowing exactly who, what and where you are, in defiance of those powerful forces in society—alcohol, drugs, television, shopping malls, [electronics]—that aim to make us forget. A healthy ascetic discipline asks you to rejoice in these gifts of deprivation, to learn from them, and to care less for amenities than for that which refreshes from a deeper source.”

That’s my new my challenge, my chosen ethic, and my invitation.