This evening, David Suzuki, the iconic Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmentalist spoke at the Embassy theatre in Wellington. Essentially on a “Last Lecture” tour he has been traveling in this part of the world for the last 5 weeks.
I am a big fan of Mr Suzuki and he had some beautifully profound things to say. He talked of Earth as our Mother, not just metaphorically but literally. We are created from earth, air, fire and water, he told us. We are air, every bit of food was once alive, the New Zealand water we drink has cartwheeled its way around the earth and we are fueled by plants that capture sunlight. We are created by Mother Earth and she provides us with our most fundamental needs.
This man is speaking my language. He is talking the language of Onemeall, of OMA, of Grandmother Earth. One, me, all. We are all one. We are all connected. As David said tonight, “If I am air and you are air, then I am you”. Or as the lovely Stephanie, Co-Founder of Onemeall would say “One table, us all gathered. One meal, us all invited. One planet, us all communing.”
And yet, in spite of his beautiful words I left the Embassy feeling, well, a little ill at ease.
Partly it was that he spoke of islands of plastic in the Pacific the size of Texas. Partly it was that he told us we’re past the 59th minute and at 1 hour, our time is up. But mostly, it was because I felt the sharp edge of his activism and I found it to be disengaging.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-activism. It was my career for several years, one I lived and breathed. I come from a long line of advocates, my grandfather was a barrister known in Wellington as a champion of the underdogs. Advocacy and activism are part of my genetic makeup, my cellular memory.
David’s talk left me feeling impressed, hugely grateful for the impassioned words of a wise Elder, but it also left me feeling, once again, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the plight we’re facing and consequently emotionally disengaged. I didn’t leave the theatre feeling that there is something I can do which will really make a difference. And I couldn’t help comparing it with the other Canadian Elder I’ve listened to very recently.
Nearly two weeks ago, along with approximately 4000 other people, I found myself caught up in the magic of a Leonard Cohen concert. His music, his poetry, his storytelling. I don’t think I’d previously experienced on that scale, such a tangible sense of shared well-beng. And not in a spacey, fringey way but in a deeply grounded way.
As I left the venue, smiling and being smiled at, what I felt quite frankly was love. And empathy. The experience I had just shared with thousands of other people, all but three of them unknown to me, left me wanting to be a more loving and kinder person.
This evening, enjoying a delicious meal (thank you Mother Earth) with two beloved friends after the lecture, we talked about the sharp edges of activism and the warm embrace of connecting with friends, family and neighbours. And as we shared a single wedge of orange cake and a laugh with the cheerful waitress, that sense of wellbeing and empathy crept back into my heart.
Having said all of that, although personally I am gravitating towards the approach of a warm embrace, I suspect that we need the occasional sharp edge too. So let’s listen to the messages of our Elders, however they choose to sing their song.