by:“What if I look at this pandemic from the perspective of Earth? What might our 4.5 billion-year-old planet have to say to the most disruptive of her 8.7 million species right now?”
I discovered the healing power of writing at an Esalen Institute workshop in 2012. One of the first writing prompts the teacher gave us was: Tell me the story of your family from the point of view of your kitchen table.
The narrator of my story was the kitchen table from the apartment in Manhattan where I spent my teenage years—a time when my mother was stuck in a phase of deep depression and spent entire days in bed watching television. She even ate her food in bed. In fact, during all those years, our family never once sat around that table together for a meal, a snack, or a conversation.
I’d always cataloged this situation as part of my personal sob story—it was on the list of the many things I should have experienced, but never did. Astonishingly, describing our household from the point of view of the table changed everything. Having that impartial object bear witness to my mother’s sadness and defeat enabled me, for the very first time, to acknowledge the depth of her suffering, and to feel compassion instead of anger.
It was no longer all about me.
I remembered this cathartic experience during the wee hours of the morning recently, as I lay awake worrying about the immense challenges the world is facing with the furious spread of the coronavirus—the loss of lives and jobs, overwhelmed healthcare workers, quarantines with no end in sight, schools and businesses closed, and so much fear and uncertainty.
Shifting Perspectives on the Coronavirus
Then I wondered if a dramatic shift in my perspective could lead to insights I couldn’t access from my current point of view, so I asked myself: What if I look at this pandemic from the perspective of Earth? What might our 4.5 billion-year-old planet have to say to the most disruptive of her 8.7 million species right now?
I imagined Mother Earth wearing a patient but pained little smile, just like any exasperated parent explaining to her clueless children why they are getting a long-overdue timeout.
How could we humans argue that our behavior doesn’t necessitate some introspection and modification?
Clearly, we are at a critical moment in history. Environmentally, we are destroying our planet at an unprecedented rate. The natural resources that we—and millions of other animal and plant species—rely on for our very survival are gravely threatened.
The average American generates more than 4.5 pounds of garbage every day. Our country used more than 142 billion gallons of gasoline in 2019 alone. Our unsustainable overconsumption of fossil fuels, countless material goods, disposable products, and resource-intensive foods produced with toxic chemicals has led to global warming, pollution of our air, soil and water systems, tremendous loss of biodiversity, rapid deforestation, and countless other critical problems.
While awareness of the ramifications of climate change are now on almost everyone’s radar, there is both a sense of helplessness and a lack of willingness to substantially change our consumptions patterns. Yes, Mother Earth would be wise to give us the opportunity to collect ourselves and reflect on our situation before we continue to spiral out of control.
Worldwide, there are more than 70 million forcibly displaced people. Approximately nine million people die every year from hunger or hunger-related diseases. Isolationism, nationalism, and racism are on the rise. Our human family does not appear to evolving towards more unity, empathy, and cooperation.
But this new virus doesn’t differentiate by skin color, nationality, or religion. To the virus—just like to Mother Earth—we are all the same single human family. And during its devastating spread, we are becoming increasingly aware of the myriad ways all people and all countries are completely interdependent.
Yes, the enormous momentum of entire economies is hard to stop. Entrenched patterns can feel almost impossible to break. But while humans protest loudly, we also eventually adapt to almost anything.
Adopting New Behaviors
Look at us now, using much less toilet paper because we don’t know when it will reappear on store shelves. Wasting less food because every outing or delivery comes with some risk, and our bank accounts are shrinking. That new outfit we previously couldn’t resist quickly lost its allure when we couldn’t go out to show it off. We are traveling less, walking more, seeking out nature, feeling more vulnerable, and supporting each other in brand new ways, albeit from afar. Health matters more than wealth. We are recalibrating.
We are shutting down our usual lives to protect the health of our most vulnerable population. Around the country, as schools close, we’re becoming more aware of the millions of children that rely on free lunches for their sustenance. In California, where we are all sheltering at home, at the top of mind are the 150,000 Californians that do not have one. Grateful to have enough food to feed our families and pets, we no longer take our ability to survive for granted.
Mother Earth reminds us that sustained human health is not possible without a healthy planet. During this timeout, when many factories are closed and there are fewer cars on the road and planes in the air, pollution is clearing in many big cities. The skies are blue and there is fresh air to breathe. The canals in Venice are the clearest they’ve been in sixty years. We are remembering just how much beauty has been sacrificed for commerce.
My father was a brilliant inventor, a philosopher, and one of the wisest people I have ever known. He was also a Holocaust survivor who lived through the biggest horrors of WWII. He was convinced that the suffering of the human race will not diminish until we recognize that we are all essentially the same, always inextricably interconnected.
Despite the enormity of the unprecedented challenges we face, I am grateful for the hope that comes with witnessing how quickly people have mobilized. At the community, state and national levels, massive changes are being enacted at a speed I would never have imagined possible if I hadn’t witnessed them myself.
My father believed that life is a school, and we come here to grow in wisdom and love. During this difficult time, shifting our perspective to that of Mother Earth is humbling. We remember our vulnerability as living creatures—that our sense of control over our environment is simply an illusion.
My hope is that down the line, when the threat of coronavirus begins to ebb, we can aim these same impressive resources and determination towards solving our chronic, but just as threatening, environmental and social issues. What a blessing it would be if this outbreak was not only about hardship, but also served as a time of reflection that ultimately helps our human family learn to care for our planet and each other in a way that allows us to thrive and live together in peace.