Alison Leonard calls to our better nature
The earth’s magnetic north has begun to move faster than before, and now travels at the rate of about thirty-four miles per year – faster than it has been seen since magnetic north was first detected in 1831.
This isn’t a horror story invented by the tabloids, or an allegory from the pen of Philip Pullman. It’s a scientifically verifiable fact. But it does feel like an allegory, a symbol, for those on the losing side of the UK’s election, that vital movements have been going on without us noticing which suddenly reveal themselves as unavoidable truths. This revelation brings with it an existential shock. I can feel it juddering, both within me and around me. I find myself doing and saying things that show me to be not grounded. Not – in a literal way – sense-ible.
I reach for words of counsel. Old liturgical ones: ‘Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted.’ Or the ever-faithful John Woolman: ‘Take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of creation… Turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love.’
Two words come up through those sentences: cherish and community. And another pair bubbles up too, planet and rescue. That is not so clear. It’s not so much the planet we need to rescue as our behaviour and our attitudes to it.
News of another natural phenomenon has emerged. This one about the way trees behave. The ecologist Suzanne Simard writes: ‘A forest is a cooperative system… It’s this network, sort of like a below-ground pipeline, that connects one tree root system to another tree root system, so that nutrients and carbon and water can exchange between the trees.’ She gives an instance: ‘In the natural forest of British Columbia, paper birch and Douglas fir grow together in early successional forest communities [and] cooperate with each other by sending nutrients and carbon back and forth.’ Trees can spread love and care to their own tribe and other tribes; so can we.
Back to the electoral earthquake. We can resist this tectonic movement. My instinct is to choose another option and follow the trees. Learn from the natural world to give out cooperative, loving messages. Scatter them everywhere, in this time of great need. Indulge in random acts of kindness. Maybe in systemic acts of kindness, too.
But we may have to go deeper than that. I recall Advices & queries: ‘So it is for the comfort and discomfort of Friends that these… are offered, with the hope that we may all be more faithful.’ It occurs to me, with ghastly discomfort, that we may not be able to face the reality of the climate crisis that is upon us. Our nation, which has scarcely recovered from the loss of empire, has been caught in the whirlpool of Brexit, and we still haven’t found a way to describe our economy other than in terms of growth.
So, to steady myself, I return to the old mantras: community, courage, love and care. Be faithful.
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