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Another Earth Day has come and gone and I find myself remembering the first one – Wednesday, April 29, 1970. We were so young and naive. On that momentous day I remember so very well the excitement we all felt. I remember that we actually believed that if people knew how important a balanced environment is, they would immediately set out to make the changes in their own lives to help mitigate the damage we all do every day to our Mother Planet Earth. Now, almost 40 years later, we know that our mindless consumption is leading to the death of our planet. We watch Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s film Inconvenient Truth, and we read about weather changes around the world. We see videos of glaciers disappearing and icebergs shrinking. But we also listen to the very same skepticism of forty years ago and watch the very same corporate executives line their pockets at the expense of their own grand children.

I also see signs of hope. I see people buying compact fluorescent light bulbs and reusable shopping bags and fuel efficient or even hybrid cars and stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic disposables. When I take my trash container out to the curb, I think about what I have thrown away and know that even though it seems to magically disappear, it has actually become a part of my own carbon footprint, my legacy, one more scar I’ll leave behind and I try to buy use and accordingly. For example, I try not to buy anything “disposable” because, in reality, that’s just another word for “forever”.

Some examples of how long it takes our trash to decompose –

Paper, 2 to 5 months
Orange peels, 6 months
Milk cartons, 5 years
Filter-tip cigarettes, 10 to 12 years
Plastic bags, 10 to 20 years
Leather shoes, 24 to 40 years
Plastic containers, 50 to 80 years
Disposable diapers, 75 years
Tin cans, 100 years
Aluminum cans, 200 to 500 years
Styrofoam, never

I’ve heard people talk about feeling helpless to make real and meaningful changes. But, the one thing that is easy to do and without a doubt makes the biggest difference in our contribution to global warming is going vegetarian. Like the health cost of smoking cigarettes, this has been known for generations. But, like cigarettes, the huge corporations that produce the meat we eat spend billions every year to persuade us to continue to eat a substance that contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, liver and kidney disease and does more to keep us dependent on foreign oil than driving a gas hog SUV. That’s right … driving a gas guzzler does less environmental damage than eating beef.

From 80 to 95% of the grains we grow are fed to livestock. While an acre of prime land produces 20,000 pounds of potatoes, that same acre produces only 165 pounds of edible beef.

More than half of the land used for agriculture in the United States is used to grow beef. Most beef consumed in the US is “finished” at a feedlot where it will require more than 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce only one pound of edible flesh.

Chicken and pork are also incredibly wasteful and environmentally expensive … It takes 5 pounds of protein feed to produce one pound of protein in the form of chicken and almost 8 pounds of protein is fed to hogs to get back one pound of edible protein.

Each year we lose cropland equal to the size of Connecticut due to soil erosion. More than 85% of the topsoil lost is directly related to raising livestock. Every 5 seconds, we lose another acre of trees but switching to a complete vegetarian diet would save that acre.

Its long been known that we are destroying our tropical rain forests at an astounding rate. Often called the lungs of our planet because most of our oxygen is produced there, the American meat habit is responsible for most of that decimation. Every year, while 75% of Central American children go to bed hungry, the U.S. imports 300,000,000 pounds of meat from Central and South America. The worlds rain forests are being leveled and species are going extinct at the rate of more than 1000 a year just to raise beef for the US..

More than half of all water used for all purposes in the United States is for livestock production. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat while a pound of meat requires 2500 gallons. The production of just one cow requires enough water to float a destroyer.

The methane produced by cattle and other livestock has been in the news lately but that’s not the only reason we should be concerned about the back-end of so-called “food” animals. While human beings in the U.S put out 12,000 pounds of excrement every second, U.S. livestock produce in excess of 250,000 pounds per second. Modern day sewage systems are common for human use but no such thing exists for livestock excrement. Instead, it ends up fouling our streams, rivers and groundwater.

There are other reasons not to eat meat. Namely, your own health and the mind-numbing cruelty that is inherent to the industry. But the biggest reason not to eat meat is our children and the planet we will leave to them.

If you doubt that switching to a vegetarian diet really will make a difference, consider this: The amount of all raw materials (base products of farming, forestry and mining – including fossil fuels) consumed by the U.S. that are devoted to the production of livestock is in excess of 33%. A vegetarian diet requires only 2% of those same raw materials.

Going vegetarian is deceptively easy. Start by simply not eating animals. There are countless websites and cookbooks that teach a healthy and VERY tasty way of eating. Enjoy it. Make it an adventure that your entire family can share.

Don’t look on vegetarianism as giving up something. You’re really not. If you choose a meat-based diet, you have only four things to build a meal around. Cow, chicken, pig and fish. If you go vegetarian, the options and varieties are literally endless.

My main source the facts in this essay is John Robbin’s Pulitzer nominated book, Diet For A New America. More can be found in Kathy Freston’s excellent writings on the Huffington Post … An Earth Day Reflection On The Breathtaking Effects Of Cutting Back On Meat and One Bite at a Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Eating

SUITCASES FILLED WITH COURAGE

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I don’t often put words to it – maybe none of us do – but living takes courage. Since writing about not always being able to face our problems with a ROAR below, I’ve been thinking about my friends and the Dragons all of us face each and every day of our lives. The more I think of the terribly painful details they’ve entrusted me with, the more I feel overwhelmed with the pride for their courage.

I have a dear friend whose husband may be showing the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Or perhaps its something else. The doctors can’t say for sure. If the worst happens, the economy, her age and her own precarious health would make it all but impossible for her to support them both. She seldom lets on just how much the future worries her but I know its there, in the back of her mind, like a spider building its web.

Another friend whose own health problems are piled high on top of the problems of her children. She recently told me, in such a heartbreakingly off-hand way, that she feared for her own future. She said what we all eventually say – that as she ages, she wants to be able to be as independent as she now and go on living in her own home. If she became unable to care for herself, they would care for her if they could but its unlikely they could.

I’ve actually heard people say they had children so there would be someone to take care of them in their so-called golden years but the temptation to make some bad joke about tarnished gold is almost more than I can resist. It doesn’t matter how you raise your children. I have no doubt that she would lay down her life for her kids but there comes comes a day when all of us, parents and kids alike, are on our own.

I’ve recently talked with my friend, a dear man whose beloved wife has grown cold over the years and who, finally, in utter and complete desperation, took a lover. Its his own wife he wants but she is indifferent to his needs. Too many years of sleeping alone next to her have finally driven him to the unthinkable and he is angry and bitter. I know a woman who, after fifteen years of forced celibacy, took a lover. She once told me she used to believe that one of the reasons for marriage was to marry one’s lover. She too had become angry and bitter at all the years of being pushed away.

And the woman I spoke of in an earlier post … raised by a very abusive mother and then inexplicably stayed married to an abusive man for 25 years. One day, she looked in the mirror and knew she had to get out. She saved her money and bided her time and then, one weekend when she overheard him tell a friend he would be away, she made a run for it. As I mentioned below, she has since married a man who loves her and keeps her safe, and yet she still has nightmares that her ex-husband will suddenly appear and beat her senseless.

The most courageous man I’ve ever known cared for his wife through nine years of a losing battle with cancer. He made sure that no one, not even his family or close friends ever knew just how exhausted he was or much he was hurting. When he reads this, he will surely scuff his toe in the dirt and say, “You do what you have to do”. I admire his strength and courage but his pain is palpable when he talks about the mental and emotional cost is of ‘doing what you have to’. And, of course, the financial result of a catastrophic illness is nothing short of devastating and it is very likely he will never recover.

A good friend whose job is wearing her down to a bruised shadow of the passionate and happy woman she is underneath. There’s nothing she can do. She dares not resign but going to her job every day is slowly killing her.

Another friend, bright and so much younger than her calendar says she is. She struggles every day to hold on to what she has and to make new opportunities for herself. Though she is far too proud and stubborn to admit it, she too worries about what her future holds for her .

So many of the people I know have lost some part of their hard-earned money. Some in the form of falling real estate values, some are watching their investments dwindle and some have even lost their jobs. Do any of us believe that our president of only three months can magically fix the damage of so many years of greed and dishonest wheeling and dealing we now know went on behind the closed doors of the Oval Office? No … I’m very afraid we’re in for a long hard time of it as are our children and their children. That is the legacy of the last eight years.

There’s an old story about people meeting on a street corner with all their troubles packed in suitcases. As the story goes, they all exchange their suitcases for those of others, and each opens and examines the contents and, without exception choose to take back their own suitcases.

Some days we’re able to stand up to our dragons and some days we keep our head down and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Some days we can barely stand to read the news for fear of yet another family being wiped out by one of their own or another innocent child disappearing or more signs of our own planet’s eventual death at our hands. But, in spite of heartbreak and fear and watching our hard-earned financial futures seem to melt away, we can still hear the birds sing and, corny as it may sound, we still stop for a moment to listen when a child laughs. In the face of all of that and more, we all keep going because, finally, what else can we do?.

For the friends mentioned here and for those I have not described, I wish all of us the strength and courage to look their dragons in the eye and know we can Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway!

THREE WOMEN

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THREE WOMEN

When I was very young, I knew two women who killed themselves.

The first was very beautiful, very intelligent, witty and educated and loved by a man who was just as smart, educated, witty and handsome as she. They were in college together and planned to be married as soon as they graduated. Everyone knew they would both be very successful in their chosen careers.

Karen was the sort that plain women, like myself, envied. The phrase that always came to mind was that her smile lit up the room. People gravitated to her and he gazed at her with obvious adoration. Who would not want a life as blessed and charmed as hers seemed to be?

And then one day she visited her parent’s home, broke into her father’s gun cabinet and, tying a length of string to her toe, managed to blow her beautiful face to pieces by putting the barrel of a shotgun under her chin and pulling the trigger.

A couple of years later, I went to live in New York City and, rents being out of reach, I lived in a women’s residence that catered to tall, skinny dancers who attended Julliard and tall, skinny models hoping for that one big break that would assure their success.

Her name was Mitzi and she was from Ohio or Idaho or maybe it was Colorado. She ate almost nothing and dreamed of seeing her face on the cover of one or another fashion magazine. One night she knocked on my apartment door but could not say why. She held a compact and mechanically brushed powder on her face. I invited her in but she said she was on her way out to an “important party.”

Later that same night I was awakened by sirens but it wasn’t until the next day that I learned that sometime during the night, she had jumped from her apartment window. I was terrified and beyond sad to see her shattered compact laying in the street near to where her body had been found.

The third young woman did not kill herself. But neither did she live.

Her earliest memories were of being hurt by the very people charged with her well being. From them, she learned she was homely and clumsy and slow witted and doomed to a life of lonely failure. She once overheard her mother lamenting to her aunt that her sisters had attributes that would stand them in good stead when the time came for husband hunting. One would make a good wife and have babies while the other was pretty and so neither would have any trouble attracting a decent breadwinner.

‘But, her mother whined, what could be done about the third daughter?’

As though it could fix what was wrong with her, she was beaten – physically and mentally, and deprived of the most basic caring that her siblings took for granted. From this she learned how to not love or be loved. She learned how to smile and lie and hide her scars. More than anything else she learned how to settle.

I wonder how many of us settle. How many of us don’t believe we deserve what we want and need and so we take what ever comes down the road? How many of us live ‘lives of quiet desperation’, making the best of it and never knowing how to live any other way?

I don’t think very often of those two perfect and beautiful young women whose private desperations drove them to end their lives. There is no way for me to ever be able to know or understand whether it takes more courage to go on, day after day, or more to say Bye, and fold it up.

I’m just very glad there is something inside most of us that makes it possible for us to wake up every morning and think, “I’ll try again today”.