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 Going Green: One family’s journey towards Harmonious Seasonality #11

EnvironmentVol. I, issue 11: Sharing

by Sherian Valenti

Be good and you will be lonesome. –Mark Twain
Be lonesome and you will be free. –Jimmy Buffett

I had company for dinner a few evenings ago. It was a single cool, clear day sandwiched between uncomfortably hot, humid weather. We sat outside at my little table to eat (among other things) fresh corn on the cob, heirloom tomatoes, and garden cucumbers, and to drink iced tea while discussing all manner of things. It was a delightfully pleasant way to pass the time, and during the meal I made the comment that if I didn’t eat fresh corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers almost every day for a month in the summer, I didn’t feel that I was living. That was a true statement, and it put into my head the refrain from the Jimmy Buffett song, That’s What Living Is to Me. More importantly, it made me ask myself, if the song describes what living is to Jimmy Buffett, then what is living to me? The answer, I have concluded, is sharing. Living is sharing...

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Living to me means sharing food, books, space, love, friendship, kindness, ideas, conversations, stories, ourselves. This requires trust and faith in others; honor and integrity in ourselves.

How many people, I wonder, are living by this definition? In the words of Auntie Mame, life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.

We may speak of giving, whether it be in terms of gifts or charity or donations or sponsorships or other acts of material transference, and we may speak of giving of oneself, whether it is one’s time or other acts of volunteerism, but we are not necessarily speaking of sharing. We could be, as giving and sharing are not mutually exclusive concepts, yet neither are they synonymous. Sharing is reciprocal, whereas giving might or might not be so. In giving, what is given might not be wanted by the recipient, and if you give something with the expectation of getting something in return, you have not given a gift, but entered into an exchange whether or not the other half of the often-unspoken bargain is upheld. Sharing, by my definition, is more personal, more intimate, than giving, whereby there is a simultaneous communion of souls. I pour two cups of tea, one for you and one for me; as you take up your cup, you make a witty remark or quote a poem or a song lyric or tell a story or simply smile; we are sharing not only the tea, but in the experience of having the tea, so although I may have bought the tea, prepared the tea, and have provided the tea to you, I have shared, not given.

Murray Bookchin died this week. I had never heard of Murray Bookchin until I read his obituary in the newspaper a couple days ago, but I am very anxious to learn more about him and his ideas. According to the Associate Press report, as the founder of social ecology, he “argued that only a completely free and open society can resolve the problems confronting the environment.” A Google search reveals that he is closely associated with anarchists, although he is sometimes referred to as a socialist or a libertarian, and some of his essays are available online. Time being such as it is (in desperately short supply), I have only partially skimmed his writings as they appear online. I am left with the impression that while his tone is harsh, and his style is direct and unyielding, his ideas are not without merit, even if by certain standards his means are not well-matched to his ends. Still, I am intrigued by the term “social ecology,” and I can’t help wondering if philosophically I am one of his descendants. I am no anarchist (I am not even a proper socialist), but as I have been repeating for these many weeks, it will take a fully organized and directed social movement to save the environment from the destruction we as a species have wreaked upon it. Capitalist, socialist, or anarchist, is there anyone who cannot understand that what is truly best for us collectively is ultimately best for us individually? What is to be misunderstood in the phrase “for the common good”? Is not the continuation of life on earth the greatest common good?

So this leads me to wonder what living means to other people. Does he who dies with the most toys really win?

Which brings me back to the current heat wave. It has been hot. Very hot. And not to disparage any theories of global warming, it has also been hot in the past, by which I mean that people survived the heat before the mass production of the room-sized air conditioner. How did they do it? Cities like Chicago are setting up cooling centers. I find this curious. I understand providing emergency shelters in the winter when utility outages and freezing temperatures combine to create crises, but it has always been hot in the summer. Heat waves are not new. What have we lost or forgotten for coping with extreme heat? I am reminded of the words of a woman who was recorded shortly after arriving in Houston from New Orleans, a few days after Hurricane Katrina. “This is the first time I have been comfortable in days!” she said. “It’s not home, but at least I am somewhat comfortable.” I said more than a few unkind words in response when I heard her say that, as though her personal comfort was uppermost in the minds of everyone. New Orleans may not have been under water to that extent previously, but undoubtedly the temperature had been that high—and probably higher—before. How did the inhabitants manage it then? Moreover, what, I wonder, is living to that woman? I wish I could ask her. I would really like to know.

There are certain conversations in which we engage that regardless of whom they are with or when or where they take place are always the same. There is one in particular that is often introduced by one party expressing a wish to win the lottery and winds down with the sentiment that not much is actually needed, and the wish to at least have enough money to pay the bills and not have to worry about where the next meal/month’s rent/paycheck is coming from. Is this living as much as chronic survival? Certainly with the right combination of circumstance and imagination, one can live quite well with quite little, but is “getting by” the same as living? What does it really mean to be truly alive? Writers of popular songs have been struggling with this question for decades. And no, this is not the same question as “What is the meaning of life?”

Yes, you should seize the day because yes, life is short, but what are you seizing? What is your vision of life? Not of paradise, not of an ideal setting, but of living? What does it mean to you to be alive? Again, not the meaning of life, not why we are here, not is there a God, but what makes you feel alive? Deeper than the adrenaline rush of surfing or hang gliding, what does living mean to you when you are washing dishes or eating breakfast or driving to work? How do you know you are living and not simply subsisting? There is a difference; can you define it?

Last week I vowed to be more nurturing and encouraging. This I have tried to be. It is too early yet to judge my success. Some things such as self-esteem and courage take time to develop. Nurturing respect and loving kindness do not self-replicate as fast as mosquitoes, but they do sometimes have a comparable lifespan. Therefore, to my mission I must add the commission to gain insight into what living is to others, for only then will my attempts at nurturing become sharing and not giving. And sharing is what living is to me.




Copyright 2006, Sherian Valenti

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